The Huskers (14-8, 5-4 Big Ten) just wilted down the stretch against No. 13 Ohio State (17-4, 9-0 Big Ten), falling 64-59.
Guard James Palmer Jr. was on another level for the Huskers, who needed every last point he had as the rest of the team struggled mightily shooting the ball.
Monster Performance from Palmer
James Palmer Jr. is a man playing amongst boys right now.
The recently-minted Big Ten co-Player of the Week was on fire Monday night and the Buckeyes had no answer for him. The Huskers didn’t shoot well as a team, but Palmer kept them in the game thanks to a masterful 34-point performance.
It was a career night for the 6-foot-6 guard, who scored in every facet of play. He hit five triples, knocked down seven free throws and hit a litany of acrobatic shots near the basket.
Palmer has been the unquestioned offensive leader for some time now — he hit the game-winner against Illinois on Jan. 15 and has at least 18 points in six of his last seven games — but he seemed to be on another level against the 13th-ranked team in the country.
He also became the first player since Kentucky’s Jamal Murray (2015) to put up 30 on the Buckeyes. Murray was a lottery pick in the NBA. That’s pretty solid company.
It’s Palmer’s world now. We’re just living in it.
The Huskers have proven they can win ugly on the back of strong defense, and the less-glamorous end of the floor was again a strength for the Huskers, but the offense was an adventure all night and ultimately proved to be the Huskers’ undoing.
Take Palmer’s career-high scoring effort away and the Huskers would have been in serious trouble. Palmer received virtually no help from his teammates. No other Nebraska player scored in double-digits and Palmer was the only player to hit more than two shots.
The real issue was the shot selection. The Huskers shot 39 percent from the floor and continued to settle for outside looks that weren’t falling. The Huskers attempted 28 triples (three off a season-high) and only hit eight of them. Time and again, they seemed content hoisting perimeter jumpers instead of attacking the paint and forcing the action.
Nebraska went to its 1-3-1 zone late to try and stay in it but the Buckeyes closed the game on an 11-5 run while Nebraska hit just one shot from the floor (a meaningless three from Palmer) in the final four minutes.
For the second time against a ranked opponent on the road, an inability to hit shots doomed the Huskers down the stretch. The first time, the Huskers felt like they let one slip away. This time, they held a lead with just over four minutes to play. It's hard to see them feeling any different after this one.
Watson Continues to be a Question Mark
I don’t really like zeroing in on two individual performances in these kinds of pieces, but I’m not really sure what’s going on with guard Glynn Watson Jr.
I know he’s not the main scoring option at this point in the season — that distinction belongs to Palmer now — but Watson was projected as one of the main sources of offense for the Huskers heading into the season. He simply hasn’t been that lately.
He’s topped eight points just once in his last five and hasn’t shot above 50 percent in a game since Dec. 16. Watson was again non-existent for Nebraska. He was held scoreless in the first half, missing on all five of his shots, and only supplied one assist.
Watson didn’t score until there were just over eight minutes left in the game and finished with only two points, two assists and eight missed shots. As a team, the Huskers had six assists and no, that doesn’t all fall on Watson, but the Huskers need better play from their point guard.
Nebraska needed someone else, anyone else, to step up alongside Palmer and a slump-busting game from Watson would have been huge, but such a game continues to elude the junior guard.
The Huskers need to be close to perfect to close out this season with a trip to the NCAA tournament, but it’s hard to see that happening if Watson can’t get going.
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.