Photo by Pat Radigan
Story by Pat Radigan
Four Huskers hit double figures as No. 23 Michigan struggles
Just three nights after making things way too close with an Illinois team that was winless in the Big Ten, there was little No. 23 Michigan could do to keep up with the Huskers at home.
Using the energy of the home fans, Nebraska quickly stretched an 11-point halftime lead to 17, before running away with a 20-point upset of the Wolverines. James Palmer Jr.’s 19 points led four Huskers in double figures, but more importantly NU held Michigan to just 37.5 percent shooting to put an exclamation point on Nebraska’s first win over a ranked team this year.
“I don’t think we’ll be the last team to come out here and not come away with a win,” said Michigan coach John Beilein.
Palmer followed up his heroics in Monday night’s win over Illinois with another solid outing. The difference on Thursday was having plenty of help, as four Huskers scored in double figures. Isaiah Roby had a career-high 14 points, while adding three assists, two blocks and a steal. Isaac Copeland chipped in 13, and Anton Gill connected on 4-for-5 from the field for 10 points.
“Everybody touched the ball. Everybody was aggressive,” Copeland said. “On the stats, you’ll see everybody scored that played pretty much. When we’re like that, we’re hard to guard.”
A first-half fervor among the home fans turned to a full-on frenzy when Gill found a spark and Palmer led the way for NU to pull away.
Michigan came out of the half with a spurt, as the Wolverines cut the Nebraska lead to eight. Moritz Wagner got things going on a dunk, his only basket of the game, before a layup by Isaiah Livers made it 33-25.
The two teams traded jump shots, then Copeland missed a ‘3’ to give the ball back to the Wolverines, still down just eight. Then Roby stepped in, both literally and figuratively, to pick off the outlet pass and get an easy score. That steal gave the momentum back to Nebraska, then Copeland and Evan Taylor added scores of their own to get the energy back in the crowd.
Gill continued the trend by hitting a 3-pointer to put NU up by 16, and added another about a minute later to push the lead to 48-31 with 11:59 to play.
Michigan threatened to get back into the game when Jordan Poole’s dunk brought the margin back to 12. Palmer had other ideas. The junior started his spurt by making a pair of free throws, followed that with a 3-pointer, then chipped in three more foul shots and jumper to give Palmer 9 points as part of an 11-2 run by the Huskers.
That pushed the lead to 63-42, and all but ended the game with Nebraska up by 21 and Michigan’s offense struggling for scoring opportunities.
Nebraska coach Tim Miles said that guarding a team like Michigan was something he had spoken to his staff about since the offseason, but credited his assistants with finding a way to stop a versatile Wolverine team.
“Kenya Hunter put together a great defensive game plan,” he said. “I thought Kenya made some adjustments, some of the switches and some of that, and our guys bought in. They were very focused, very competitive with energy, and did a great job.
Nebraska’s defense over the first 20 minutes kept Michigan out of sorts, and that led to an efficient half for the Huskers on both ends.
Roby hit all four of his shots in the first half, while Roby connected on 5 of 8 from the field to post a team-high 10 points. That helped Nebraska shoot 60 percent from the field before the break. Ball movement was also key for the Huskers in the first half, as NU had as many assists (8) as Michigan did made field goals.
Both teams attempted 25 shots, which left Michigan with a 32 percent shooting start. The Wolverines hit just three 3-pointers in the first half, and saw co-leading scorer Wagner miss the only shot he took in 19 minutes of play.
The Huskers defensive pressure forced nine turnovers before halftime, including seven NU steals, and got the home crowd hungry for an upset early in the game.
“It’s so nice to send the Huskers home early with a big smile on their face and not wait until the very end, or the bitter end, and really enjoy one,” Miles said. “It was really cool, especially that first half when we started to kind of take a lead, it was one of those things that, like I said, I got chills.”