It looked as good as it has looked during this slide, and Nebraska made things a little tighter than fans would want to see down the stretch, but the slide is officially over.
The Huskers (14-11, 4-10 Big Ten) won for the first time in exactly 30 days Wednesday night with a 62-61 win at the buzzer to down Minnesota (16-9, 6-8 Big Ten).
Here are three takes.
I got off the elevator in the parking garage outside Pinnacle Bank Arena with an elderly couple before coming into the arena. They asked about my camera bag and I said it was for recording the press conference after the game. Hopefully it would be a happy one, they said. Nebraska certainly needs something to feel good about, I responded back.
It had been a month since Nebraska last felt joy after a basketball game.
It was weighing on them. That much was evident to anyone that spent time around the team over this slide. Talk of confidence and leadership and just getting over the hump gets exhausting when that’s all you have to talk about.
But the last time out, a 19-point loss to Purdue, represented a step in the right direction. Nebraska looked better. There was fight and a sign of life from the senior point guard. But it was still a loss.
Finally winning at home had to feel good. Doing it the way they did it has to feel even better.
Nebraska had the ball with 18.7 seconds left, down one, with a shot at the win. With 1.1 seconds left on the clock, James Palmer Jr. was fouled shooting near the baseline. He would have two free throws. One would tie. Two would win.
He made both.
And PBA erupted.
And Palmer and sophomore wing Nana Akenten had a lengthy embrace at center court after it was all said and done.
PALMER FTW. #Nebrasketball pic.twitter.com/VUzZ5zk92B
— Derek Peterson (@DrPeteyHV) February 14, 2019
Something to finally feel good about. Nebraska deserved it.
The Guards Remembered How to be Good
Glynn Watson Jr. had multiple first-half buckets.
That’s a big thing, guys.
Over his previous four first halves, he was shooting 0-for-16 from the field. He had scored one point.
Was the efficiency there in the first half? No, not at all, but Watson looked like a different Watson. The last time he was on the court at Pinnacle Bank Arena, he turned in just his second career scoreless outing and stayed late to put up extra shots. This time around, he had eight at the break on 4-for-8 shooting. There was a crossover into a pull-up from the elbow that Watson took at made. Then later, a shot fake from the corner to get the close-out man up in the air, a quick dribble inside the arc and another pull-up near the baseline for two. Shots the senior point guard has made his career on, yes, but shots he hasn’t been taking over the last handful of games.
The confidence, or at least some of the swagger, is coming back.
Watson finished with 19 points on 8-for-16 shooting. And he wasn’t the only guard to break out of the weeks-long slump Nebraska’s backcourt has been in. Palmer had his best game in a while, and not just because of the game-winning free throws. He went for 24 points on 7-for-10 shooting, 2-for-4 from deep and 8-for-10 at the stripe.
Sophomore Thomas Allen Jr. rejoined the starters and added seven points, nine rebounds, three assists and a steal in 33 minutes.
Even Amir Harris (I’m taking liberties with the “guard classification” but get over it) was a plus-minus darling in this one. He was a game-high plus-12 in 15 minutes despite taking (and missing) only one shot and grabbing three rebounds. Akenten didn’t play (sick) so Harris took over his bench role to pretty good success.
The defense was the main factor. Harris took the Amir Coffey assignment (Coffey is 6-foot-8) when he was on the floor and more than held his own. An emphatic second-half block of Coffey on a drive was the highlight.
Nebraska needs to be guard-driven given the current makeup of the roster. It hasn’t been lately. It was Wednesday night.
I’m still in somewhat of a shocked state. Nebraska moved off the ball. Nebraska made back cuts and found those cutters with on-time, accurate passes. Nebraska used ball screens the right way, drawing the defender into the screener instead of starting the action too soon or too far away from the screen to actually be effective (a personal favorite of the last couple weeks).
Offense. Finally. For the first time in a long time.
Nebraska’s last seven shooting performances (all losses):
- Michigan State: 33 percent
- Rutgers: 42 percent
- Ohio State: 36 percent
- Wisconsin: 28 percent
- Illinois: 36 percent
- Maryland: 21 percent
- Purdue 38 percent
Nebraska’s shooting against Minnesota? All the way up at 50 percent. For the game. The last time the Huskers’ shot 50 percent in a game happened on Dec. 8 against Creighton. (There’s a joke to be made about that being the last game Scott Frost attended. He was in the building Wednesday night for the strangest halftime show you’ll see.)
There’s a time and a place to talk about Jordan Murphy dominating the Huskers inside to the tune of 19 points and 13 assists, or Nebraska once again losing the rebounding battle, or going the last four minutes of the game without a made shot from the field, but let’s save those for a later time.
The offense looked as good as it has looked in conference play all season. That’s reason enough to feel good.
Bonus: No More 8 p.m. Tips, Please
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.