Through three games as a Husker, Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland had scored 21 points on 22 shots, including 0-of-8 from 3.
On Sunday afternoon in front of 10,249 fans at Pinnacle Bank Arena, the 6-foot-9 forward exploded for 30 points on 12-of-14 shooting including 3-of-4 from deep while also grabbing a team-high eight rebounds in 29 minutes.
"It felt good,” Copeland said. “I have a good support system around me. My dad pretty much calls daily to let me know to keep working and stay positive, it's eventually going to happen. I didn't think it was going to be 30 points, but I'll take it. I just wanted to be aggressive.”
Senior guard Anton Gill, who went 1-of-7 from the field in his season debut against St. John’s after missing most of last season with a knee injury as well as the first two games of this season with a groin injury, came off the bench to pour in a career-high 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting including 4-of-5 from 3-point land.
"Honestly, I'm just glad to be back playing after a year, after the groin [injury] and everything,” Gill said. “All of this just feels great to be back doing something that I love so it is icing on the cake, but just to be back out there with my guys means everything to me.”
Copeland played with a back injury in the first seven games of last season for the Hoyas before shutting it down and transferring. He spent most of last year and the offseason recovering from surgery. Gill suffered a season-ending knee injury 12 games into last season and was cleared shortly before the start of preseason practice.
“I’m just so happy for them,” Coach Tim Miles said. “Two guys go through major surgery, back surgery [for Copeland] and the [knee] injury that Anton went down [with], and it seemed to just really explode. I am just so happy for them because I know what a relief it is, how exciting it is for them and they deserve it. They’ve worked every day. They have struggled without any groaning and griping and they just stayed with it. Hopefully this is that start of the beginning.”
The Huskers (3-1) forced 18 North Dakota (2-2) turnovers and converted them into 26 points on the other end while also out-scored a smaller North Dakota team 17-8 in second chance points. After shooting 28.1 percent against the Red Storm, Nebraska shot 52.9 percent from the field and 40 percent from deep despite attempting a season-low 18 free throw attempts.
“The fact that we could show that we made improvements since our one day of practice already is good for us,” sophomore forward Isaiah Roby said. “Offensively, we knew that it was going to come. We have a lot of talent. It helps to get stops. It helps your offense already so when we get our defense going, our offense is going to come too."
After North Dakota scored the first bucket of the game, the Huskers proceeded to rip off a 23-5 run fueled by eight North Dakota turnovers. Seven different Huskers scored during that run led by Glynn Watson Jr., who knocked down his first three shots for seven early points after shooting just 1-of-9 for five points in Nebraska’s loss to St. John’s.
North Dakota got hot midway through the half, knocking down 5-of-6 shots during a stretch to pull within 10 at 30-20. Iowa transfer Dale Jones hit two 3s and Creighton transfer Marlon stewart added another plus a layup during that run. Watson, who got into foul trouble against St. John’s, picked up his second around the nine-minute mark and took a seat.
After struggling to get any semblance of offensive flow without Watson on Thursday, Nebraska took back control without him on Sunday and stretched the lead out to 18 a couple of times, taking a 49-32 lead into the locker room at halftime. Copeland put up 19 points on 8-of-9 from the field in the first half.
North Dakota scored on seven of its first 10 possessions in the second half, including hitting six straight field goals, and cut the lead to nine at 55-46 with just over 14 minutes to play. However, James Palmer Jr. and Copeland each scored four points during an 8-2 run to stretch it back out to 15.
North Dakota scored the next five points, but Nebraska countered with a 12-2 run and the Fighting Hawks never got closer than 16 points the rest of the way as the Huskers cruised to a 22-point victory.
Nebraska held North Dakota’s leading scorer Geno Crandall to 13 points on 3-of-10 shooting including two points in the first half. Crandall averaged 27.3 points through North Dakota’s first three games including a 41-point outing against Troy in the season-opener.
“Evan Taylor did a tremendous job on Crandall in the first half,” Miles said. “I don’t think people realize how tough he is to guard one-on-one. We had some guys helping him too to shrink the floor, but Evan really did a great job on him. You can’t keep him [down] forever; he still gets, what, 13 in the second half or whatever it was?”
Stewart led the Fighting Hawks with 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting while Jones added 11. Conner Avants finished with 16 points and eight rebounds but dealt with foul trouble in the second half after a strong start.
“That’s a good basketball team,” Miles said. “You can see why they won the Big Sky last year and why they’re one of the top two or three teams in the Big Sky this year. So it was a good win.”
Watson finished with 13 points and five rebounds while Roby continued his strong start to the season with 11 points, four rebounds, four assists and two blocks.
Freshman point guard Thomas Allen did not play in the game after giving it ago at St. John’s on Thursday. Allen fell hard on his tailbone against North Texas on Monday and has been limited since.
“He wasn’t able to practice before St. John’s, but we felt like if we needed him, and we got two fouls on a whole bunch of guys early, so we played him against St. John’s even though he wasn’t quite ready,” Miles said. “He tried to practice yesterday and really didn’t practice well, so I shut him down, shut him down today, we’ll shut him down tomorrow and then see if we can get him ready for Orlando.”
The Huskers will hit the road over the holiday weekend to participate in the Advocate Invitational in Orlando, Florida starting on Thursday with a game against Central Florida. Tip-off is set for 5 p.m. and the game will be available on ESPN3.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. 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.