Nebraska (20-8, 11-4 Big Ten) had no fear of the turtles on Tuesday.
The Huskers used a second-half explosion from their leading man to crank out a much-needed 70-66 win over Maryland (17-11, 6-9 Big Ten) and log their sixth 20-win season in program history.
Just Win Baby
Despite the knowledge they have to continue winning to beef up the tournament résumé, despite the pressure that knowledge inevitably brings, the Huskers continue to crank out wins. The difference in this one? With it, they’ve added another bullet point to that résumé.
Maryland sat at No. 38 in KenPom, No. 38 in BPI and No. 60 in RPI entering Tuesday night’s action. This one helps a ton.
The Huskers now have two wins over BPI top-50/KenPom top-50 programs with one left to go — a Feb. 25 rematch against Penn State (No. 36 BPI, No. 40 KenPom). Adding a third win to the ledger would mean an awful lot come conference tournament time but let’s stick with tonight for the time being.
The Huskers needed a win, and Maryland didn’t make it easy — what with its second half scoring binge — but they got what they needed. They ground out a second-half win despite shaky free throw shooting (68 percent) and foul trouble (forward Isaiah Roby and guard Glynn Watson each had three personal fouls, center Jordy Tshimanga had four in seven minutes). The Terrapins also tried to just let center Bruno Fernando win the game for them, a strategy that proved, while entertaining (he had 21 points and nine boards), ultimately unsuccessful.
The scene at the end — James Palmer Jr. fist-pumping after securing the Huskers' first 20-win season since 2007-08 — about sums it up.
Watson broke the 1,000-point threshold as a Husker, Roby (second straight double-double) and frontcourt mate Isaac Copeland were both solid again, but the night belonged to Palmer and Palmer alone. A few weeks ago, Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery called the guard a marked man in the conference.
The Huskers’ leading scorer was exactly that against the Terrapins who held him in check in the first half. Palmer had a rather quiet two points on 1-of-6 shooting. He took two triples (missed them both) and two free throws (missed them both) and was nicely guarded by Maryland’s Kevin Huerter.
His only two points came from this beauty.
— Derek Peterson (@DrPeteyHV) February 14, 2018
But in the second half, oh boy did Palmer heat up. In fact, “heating up” doesn’t quite describe it. A better way to encapsulate what Palmer did to Maryland in that second half is this: You know that popular Twitter gif of a man walking against a black background and the man is literally engulfed in flames?
Well, that man has been identified. It’s James Palmer Jr.
Mama, there went that man.
Palmer had 24 points in the second half alone on 9-of-13 shooting (2-4 3-point). He could not be stopped. When the Terps left him open in the corner? Splash. Pull up off the dribble for a long, contested two? Splash. Transition opportunity turned euro-step showcase? You bet.
Outside of Palmer, the Huskers made just four of their 14 shots in the second half, so you could probably say his combustion into a flaming wrecking ball was appropriately timed.
The guy is an NBA-caliber player at this point. Let’s just call it how it is.
By the way, James Palmer was an oversight on the last Top-100. That dude needs to be on there. He’s a legit NBA wing prospect.
— Sam Vecenie (@Sam_Vecenie) February 14, 2018
Oh, and Palmer hit the two free throws that iced the game. Big. Baller.
The Vault continues to be a major advantage for Nebraska. The Huskers are now 14-1 at home this season and every offensive statistic goes up when they play at home. They shoot better and score more at home versus on the road.
The crowd was slow-arriving — a 6 p.m. tip on a work day and finicky traffic will do that — but once the fans settled into their seats, it got raucous. They were on their feet for most of the evening and when the Huskers called for energy, the crowd gave it to them.
Throughout the second half, the crowd was as loud as it has been all season long. More good timing.
— Will Wilson (@WillWilsonRadio) February 13, 2018
It is pretty big. And it was full. And it was very, very loud.