Another balanced attack led Nebraska to its fifth straight win on Saturday afternoon as the Huskers dispatched Rutgers 67-55 in front of 15,351 fans at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Four Huskers finished with double-digit points led once again by junior guard James Palmer Jr. who finished with 15 points, five rebounds and four assists. Juniors Isaac Copeland and Glynn Watson Jr. chipped in 11 points apiece while sophomore Isaiah Roby put together another stat-stuffing effort with 10 points, 11 rebounds, two assists and two blocks.
"[Rutgers coach] Steve [Pikiell] does an excellent job and they're so physical it's going to be tough to deal with," Coach Tim Miles said. "You look at what's at stake, and you've got fourth place in the Big Ten and undefeated at home in the league and a chance to play your way into the NCAA tournament. There's a lot at stake. So, we need their focus and they understand what their goals are and they want to accomplish them."
This is Roby's third double-digit scoring performance in his last four games.
“[It's] just being more aggressive," Roby said. "Just trying to move harder, cut harder, not be so timid out there. My teammates have been finding me really well. That’s just a product of that.”
Nebraska (19-8, 10-4) suffered several scoring droughts and ended up shooting just 45.5 percent from the field and 3-of-15 from 3, but their defense combined with Rutgers’ (12-15, 2-12) offensive ineptitude was enough to secure a victory.
The Scarlet Knights shot 34.8 percent from the field and one-upped Nebraska’s struggles from deep, finishing 2-of-14. Rutgers had three players in double figures in Corey Sanders (14), Deshawn Freeman (12) and Eugene Omoruyi (11), but it took the trio 45 shots to score those 37 points.
"We've played that hard at times and defense has to be our calling card," Miles said. "We just don't score enough and we're not at ease enough especially from the 2-point area, touch and go from 3 too. So, we have to be great defensively."
Nebraska stormed out to a 20-4 lead through a combination of efficient offense and stout defense. Isaiah Roby put an exclamation point on the start with a dunk-of-the-year candidate as the 6-foot-8 sophomore blew by his man, took off from halfway up the lane, cracked it back and hammered it home.
That man has a family @roby_isaiah. #Nebrasketball pic.twitter.com/9ndzge6mOs
— Derek Peterson (@DrPeteyHV) February 10, 2018
Nebraska held Rutgers to 2-of-11 from the field (0-of-3 from 3), 0-of-1 from the free-throw line and three turnovers. Rutgers finally got it going a bit and the teams started trading buckets for until an 11-3 run by Rutgers cut the deficit to five with 7:15 to play in the half.
Glynn Watson jr. scored two straight buckets to push it back to nine, then Rutgers scored the next two buckets to make it five again. Jordy Tshimanga finished on one end, then Eugene Omoruyi responded on the other with 3:07 to play.
Both teams then went ice cold as neither team converted a field goal in the last three minutes. Nebraska hit four free throws down the stretch and took a 37-28 lead into the locker room.
Palmer split a pit of free-throws to open the scoring in the second half, but Rutgers converted the first two field goals to pull within six. Nebraska responded with a 10-0 run to push its lead back to 16 at 48-32.
Tshimanga sparked the run with back-to-back buckets after checking in for Roby who picked up his third foul at the 17:41 mark.
Rutgers responded with a quick 6-0 run, but Nebraska used its own, more methodical 6-0 run to build the lead back up to 16 midway through the half. Roby scored three buckets in about 2 minutes to help Nebraska take its biggest lead of the game at 63-44 with 6:41 to play and Nebraska cruised form there.
"The first half I was worried because we had given up a lead," Miles said. "The second half, I thought we played well with the lead and earned the lead. I was pleased with the second half. I was pleased with the team and their demeanor."
The Huskers got strong production off the bench at the five position with eight points and two rebounds from Tshimanga as well as two points (on 2-of-2 free-throw shooting), four rebounds and four blocks in six minutes. If Roby’s dunk was the highlight for the game, Okeke’s block of an attempted dunk by a Scarlet Knight was a close runner-up.
“We're always happy for Duby when he gets in the game," Palmer said. "We know he’s going to come in and rebound, and block shots and defend so it’s nothing new to us.”
Nebraska 19 wins ties the highest win total under Miles and this year’s squad still has four games left to play in the regular season.
The Huskers will return to the court at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Tuesday to host Maryland (17-10, 6-8). Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. on BTN.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.