Nebraska’s season is still alive.
In the opening game of the 2019 Big Ten Tournament in Chicago, 13-seed Nebraska (17-15, 6-14 Big Ten) downed 12-seed Rutgers 68-61.
Here are three takes from the game.
A Team Running to the Fight
Nebraska entered the game with six scholarship players. Only three of them average more than three points a game on the season. At this point, it’s pretty much 3-on-5 on offense when Nebraska plays Tanner Borchardt and Thorir Thorbjarnarson together with Glynn Watson Jr., James Palmer Jr. and Isaiah Roby.
And I say that in the nicest way. In the last month of basketball, Thorbjarnarson has supplied 14 total points. Borchardt has scored in double digits once in his career. Both really need a teammate to create their offense for them and Nebraska doesn’t have one of those guys. As a team, Nebraska only had eight assists on 20 made shots.
Which makes what we just saw all the more special.
Nebraska is just not ready for its season to end.
Freshman forward Brady Heiman gave good minutes off the bench as the only non-starter scholarship player (four points, 2-for-2 from the floor, plus-five in seven minutes). Senior walk-on guard Johnny Trueblood has played 52 minutes in the last two games, has scored exactly three points and is a plus-38. Nebraska is outscoring teams by 38 points with Trueblood on the floor.
Rutgers is, objectively, a very bad basketball team. The Scarlet Knights had more turnovers (11) in the first half than made field goals (10) and the turnovers were coming from just throwing the ball away (they finished with 22 turnovers and 24 made shots). Yet the Huskers held a one-point lead at the break.
In the second half, Rutgers opened with a 9-1 run to take the lead back and led by five with just under seven to play.
At both junctures, the Huskers fought back. That run was answered with four quick Palmer points. The five-point lead was snuffed out with a 15-0 Nebraska run that saw Rutgers go scoreless over a span of 5:43.
Trueblood played his tail off on the defensive end. Palmer exploded to close things out. The Huskers led this one for a grand total of 5:47. Nebraska plays Maryland Thursday around 2 p.m. CT on BTN. In a crazy turn of events, it’s looking like you might not be able to count this team out just yet.
Palmer Was Something Special
Palmer is the king of starting awful and then just flipping a switch. It’s almost like he knows media is writing “Palmer had another bad shooting night” into their gamers and just likes to mess with us.
He started 2-for-9 in the first half and missed three of his six free throws.
But in the final 20 minutes, he got uber comfortable. Palmer scored 27 points in the second half.
The team only scored 42 total.
He went 7-for-10 from the field, went to the free throw line 16 times in 20 minutes and single-handily carried the offense to the finish line. The wing was a necessary engine for NU in the back half of the game as he pushed the action inside and didn’t care whether he was smothered by one or multiple defenders.
Roby finished with a rather unimpactful 10 points and six boards, a relatively poor showing from him. (Which is wild because it comes on the heels of maybe one of his best games of the season. But that’s Roby, isn’t it? A maddeningly inconsistent offensive presence that surprises you when you’re not expecting it and leaves you banging your head against the wall when you’re looking for a strong showing.) Watson shot 4-for-14 with four fouls and two turnovers. You’d like for those other two guys to be a little more balanced so Palmer doesn’t have to go supernova.
But Palmer has now gone supernova in back-to-back-to-back games.
Against Michigan State, he had 30. Against Iowa, he had 27. Now he holds a Nebraska record for points scored in a Big Ten Tournament game. He’s taken 39 free throws in the last three games.
Clearly the senior isn’t ready for his career to end.
Maybe Iowa wasn’t head coach Tim Miles’ last stand.
Maybe the team hasn’t quit on its coach.
Maybe these players think a loss costs him his job and they’re fighting like hell to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Maybe. There were way too many heel turns on social media with regards to the enigmatic head ball coach after the game, as people who were calling for Miles’ head a few weeks ago are now calling him fun-loving names. There is probably still a large percentage of people out there who think this is a nice footnote to an ending that has already been written, but this Husker team clearly isn’t going down without a fight. That’s a reflection of the culture, right? Which, in turn, is a reflection of the head coach?
Maybe it’s not enough to save a job. Maybe that seven-game losing streak and the general sluggishness of the team to close the season did too much damage. But twice now Nebraska has looked toast and twice now the Huskers have managed to escape certain death.
I’m not going to give my take on the job status until the season is over, and no, this game doesn’t change how I feel. But I can also read the room. And the vibe right now is maybe, just maybe, Miles has some magic left.
BONUS: Chill, RU Band Person
Find whoever was screaming during free throws behind the Nebraska basket during this game and ban them from all basketball games until the end of time.
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.