Photo by Pat Radigan
Story by Pat Radigan
Huskers survive late-game drought to claim 20th win of the year
Nebrasketball fans are used to everything going wrong, especially when the Huskers are in the NCAA tournament conversation.
You could feel the tension in Pinnacle Bank Arena when Maryland drew a foul with 2.8 seconds to play and the Terrapins down just three. The first free throw dropped, which meant that an offensive rebound and a score would have evened the game.
As if it weren’t enough to put up 24 points in the second half, James Palmer Jr. made sure that didn’t happen.
After the second shot bounced high off the back of the rim, Palmer rose above the crowd of players in the lane, grabbed his fourth rebound of the game with two hands and hit a pair of free throws with 0.9 seconds on the clock for the final touches of Nebraska’s 20th win of the year.
The 24 second-half points for Palmer, tied for a school record, left him with 26 in the game to lead all scorers, and helped the Huskers survive a slow start in a game many felt NU needed to win. Isaiah Roby joined Palmer in double digits by notching his second-straight double-double, behind 11 points and 10 rebounds, and played a crucial role in a second-half run that gave Nebraska just enough to make it over the finish line.
“It’s great, but we’re not planning on stopping here,” Miles said. “I told our guys a week ago, if you counted wins, you’ve done it wrong. If you’ve thought, ‘Oh, I think we could win 21 or 20 this year,’ you just need to get your mind free from that and keep playing.”
Despite his big night, Palmer’s final shot was blocked by Bruno Fernando, and gave Maryland a chance to take the lead with NU up 64-63. The Terps took a timeout, and the ball found its way into the hands of Anthony Cowan after Nebraska covered Maryland’s attempt to run a backdoor cut for Kevin Huerter.
As Cowan pulled up for a ‘3’ from well behind the line, NU’s Glynn Watson Jr. got a read on the play, and got up just in time to get his hand on the shot. Watson missed a shot on Nebraska’s follow-up possession, but a Husker offensive rebound forced the Terps to foul.
After a pair of made free throws, Maryland had a chance to tie, but went for the same backdoor play and got a basket from Huerter. That sent Watson to the free throw line, where the junior hit both to pass the 1,000 point mark for his career and put NU up by three with six seconds to go.
“The fact (Glynn) could block that shot late of Cowan’s was such a huge play,” Miles said. “To know that he wasn’t having a great night offensively, and he wasn’t sensitive about it. He wanted to play better, he wasn’t happy about it, but at the same time he went out and did his job.”
Nebraska trailed at the half, but didn’t take long to take control of the game after the break.
Palmer didn’t score until late in the first half, and used that built up angst to get hot in a hurry out of the break. The junior opened the scoring in the second half to even the game at 32, then hit a 3-pointer to give NU its first lead since his first-half basket. Another Palmer basket put Nebraska ahead 43-36, and drew a Maryland timeout before the Terps could make it to the media break.
Roby had the other 6 points as part of Nebraska’s 13-4 run to open the half, as the sophomore came to life with a dunk, two free throws and a jumper.
As Palmer’s hot streak continued, Maryland began to work itself back in the game.
Palmer would score 13 of the next 20 points for Nebraska, and kept NU on the front foot as the game wound down to the final few minutes. A dunk for Palmer put the Huskers up seven, then the junior brought PBA to its feet with a Eurostep score in transition. By the time Palmer found space in the corner for a ‘3’ he had 20 points in the half, and a jump shot on the next possession gave Nebraska a 63-56 lead.
That jump shot, which came with 5:42 in the game, proved to be Nebraska’s final field goal, and gave Maryland the chance to cut into the lead.
Roby accounted for NU’s only point over the next four minutes. With Nebraska sputtering, a basket by Darryl Morsell cut it to three, then Bruno Fernando was able to get a putback basket and make it 64-63 with 1:40 to go.
Nebraska went back to Palmer on the next possession, but he was unable to convert, and gave Maryland a chance to take the lead. That’s when Watson stepped in, and started the final sequence with his block.
“I was just trying to be in the right spot,” Watson said. “I knew they were trying to go for a three and I just kind of cheated it and made a big play.”
A disjointed first half saw Maryland head into the break up by two thanks to a layup at the halftime buzzer.
Isaac Copeland kept Nebraska close, and scored all 9 of his points in the opening 20 minutes. Four 3-pointers in the first half eased the pressure of a lackluster start for Nebraska, while an 8-0 edge in bench points made up for Maryland’s ability to score inside. Watson hit a pair of ‘3’s for his only makes from the floor, and Anton Gill added another to keep the home crowd’s energy up despite a back-and-forth feel to the first half.
Although the team came out flat, Roby said the ability to keep it close allowed Nebraska to make small adjustments and take back the lead early in the second half.
“To end up just being down two, we thought we were in a pretty good spot,” Roby said.
Now Nebraska heads back to the road, and will travel to Illinois this Sunday with a chance to keep moving up the conference standings. It’s the final road game of the regular season for the Big Red, and a win could secure the No. 4 seed for Nebraska depending on other results.