It looks like these aren’t the same old Huskers after all.
Nebraska bounced back from a loss at Minnesota with one of its best offensive performances of the season, beating Creighton at its own game for a 94-75 win at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Saturday evening.
The win snapped a seven-game losing streak for the Huskers to their neighbors to the northeast and was the first for Tim Miles against Creighton coach Greg McDermott. Miles had lost their previous 14 meetings.
Fans packed Pinnacle Bank Arena to produce the sixth-largest crowd in arena history and second-largest for a non conference game at 15,950.
“I want to credit our crowd,” Miles said. “What a festive, great environment. It was like a big party and it was a lot of fun and a lot of fun to be a part of … I’m just so happy for our program and our fans. Much has been made about it and today was a great Husker day, that’s for sure.”
All five starters reached double figures for the Huskers (8-2) who knocked down three more 3-pointers and dished out five more assists than the Bluejays (6-3).
James Palmer Jr. entered Saturday 13-of-56 from 3 (23.2 percent) on the season but hit six of his seven attempts en route to a season-high 30 points. Palmer shot 9-of-12 overall and 6-of-6 from the foul line. It’s the second 30-point game of his career after he put up 34 in a loss to Ohio State last season.
“James is a playmaker, and the bigger the stage, the bigger the performance,” Miles said. “He was terrific and it didn’t surprise me at all. But he needed to get going. Nobody works harder at his game than James Palmer either. I thought he took some pretty good shots, then he took some deep ones — sometimes when you’re feeling it, you’re feeling it. It was really important. In the second half, he just didn’t fall in love with it, he did a good job driving, finding other guys and getting fouled a couple times, and that’s what James is best at. When he has the ability to hit you inside and out, he’s a tough guard.”
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Sophomore guard Thomas Allen Jr. put up a career-high 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting with five rebounds and four assists.
“Last night I didn’t sleep and my dad, he’s here as well,” Allen said. “He hasn’t seen me play here since the Kansas game last year. So my mom couldn’t make it because my youngest sister had school so I was just playing for my dad and my mom today.”
Allen put up 13 points in that Kansas game, one of his four career double-digit scoring games as a Husker so far.
Glynn Watson Jr. finished with 13 points, five assists and three steals. Isaiah Roby added 15 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two blocks and Isaac Copeland chipped in 11 points and seven rebounds.
The Huskers shot 51.4 percent from the field including 14-of-27 from downtown (51.9 percent) and 16-of-20 from the free-throw line. The Huskers forced 12 turnovers and converted them into 17 points while Nebraska’s 10 turnovers only led to five points for the Jays.
“Every guy made these huge plays,” Miles said. “You start with James Palmer Jr. coming out and shooting the ball so well. Isaiah and Issac did what they always do, they are super hard to guard. Then you look at Glynn and I was so happy for Glynn. He played really well and did some really good things. And then Tom Allen — it was like he shot out of a cannon tonight. He was really playing quick and hard and fast and it reminded me of the Kansas game last year a little bit. Nana Akenten with a hustle play, Tanner Borchardt and Brady [Heiman] with offensive rebounds saving possessions … As you look at this I thought just every guy was locked in and played tremendously.”
Tim Miles couldn’t have drawn up a better start to the game for the Huskers. Palmer knocked down his first three 3-pointers for Nebraska’s first nine points, and the Huskers didn’t slow down from here.
Allen gave the Huskers an 11-9 lead with a layup, sparking a 7-0 lead that made it 16-9. Kaleb Joseph split a pair of free throws for Creighton to end the run, but Allen scored again. Palmer picked up his second foul at the 12:46 mark on a 3-point attempt from Mitch Ballock and took a seat. Ballock hit two of the three shots, but Watson answered with a 3-pointer.
Creighton got a bucket inside to make it 21-14, then the Huskers locked in defensively. Nebraska held Creighton scoreless for the next 2:27, ripping off a 9-0 run consisting of a three-point play by Roby and back-to-back 3s by Allen and Copeland.
Davion Mintz scored at the rim to snap the streak but Nebraska started a new one. Roby beat the shot-clock buzzer with a step-back jumper, Allen got a fastkbreak layup that gave him a season-high 11 points in the first 12 minutes and Akenten knocked down Nebraska’s seventh 3 of the game to that point (on 11 attempts). The 7-0 run made it 37-16 with just over seven minutes to play.
The lead bounced between 18 and 21 points over the next five minutes. Palmer checked back in and knocked down his fourth 3-pointer of the half before checking back out after 42 seconds of game time.
“Definitely before the game and all week at practice, we’ve just been locked in and focused,” Palmer said. “Today, we were just so hyped before the game, we were just ready to play and it really showed in the first half.”
Creighton made a push late, locking the Huskers up for the final 2:35 of the half and cutting into the lead with an 8-0 run. The Huskers led 47-34 at the break.
Nebraska shot 51.4 percent from the field including 8-of-15 from deep. Allen led the Huskers with 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting while Palmer added 12 on 4-of-5 from deep, his only miss a heat check shot early on.
“Nebraska played great,” McDermott said. “We were concerned with their dribble penetration and their ability to get to the free-throw line, so we tried to plug up the lane a little bit early. To their credit, they made us pay with the 3-point shot and that kind of got the crowd into the game and got us off to a rough start and we’re fighting an uphill battle the rest of the game.”
For Creighton, Ballock hit all four of his 3-pointers including two during that last run to finish the half with a game-high 14 points. Outside of Ballock, the Jays were 1-of-7 from deep and had eight turnovers.
Ballock knocked down his fifth 3 of the game on the first possession of the second half to pull the Jays within 10. After trading scores, Ballock hit another 3 to cut it to nine, but the Jays would get no closer the rest of the night.
Roby grabbed an offensive rebound and drew a foul, splitting the free throws, then Palmer hit another 3 to push it back to 13. The Jays kept scoring, but so did the Huskers as the gap bounced between 10 and 13 over the next five minutes.
Leading by 11 with 11:33 to play, Watson knocked down a 3-pointer then Copeland followed up a missed layup in transition by Palmer for a tip-slam that pushed it back to 16 and drew a quick timeout from Creighton. After a free throw by Creighton, Roby pushed the lead back to 17. After trading scores, Creighton made another push with a 7-0 run including five by Mintz, but Palmer drew a foul on a 3-pointer and hit all three free throws.
A put-back by Damien Jefferson made it 81-70 with 4:40 to play and Nebraska followed it up with a missed 3-pointer, but Roby tracked the rebound down, kicked it out to Palmer and he swung it to Copeland for a dagger 3.
“Every sequence with Creighton is vital because they’ve got so many offensive weapons,” Miles said. “So that was huge, and Copeland’s done that more than once. He did some stuff at Clemson too, and Isaiah, I thought he played very strong tonight. When he plays like that, he’s really thought to handle.”
That 3 started a 13-2 run as Nebraska took it’s largest lead of the game at 94-72. Palmer capped that run with his sixth 3 of the game before checking out and letting the reserves close out the game. After giving up a 13-point second-half lead against Minnesota on Wednesday, Nebraska made sure to keep its foot on the pedal until the clock hit zero.
“I think the one thing we did differently between here and Minnesota is we stayed aggressive,” Roby said. “At Minnesota, we kind of started to coast. We started running our offense slow and you’re not going to score much doing that. All five guys on the court were just being aggressive and we were just attacking them.”
Watson said he made sure to pick up the team immediately after that loss to Minnesota and to get the Huskers’ attention turned towards Creighton.
“It’s a great team win and I told them after the Minnesota game that we can’t let that turn into two losses,” Watsons said. “Right after the game I told them ‘We’ve got another big game Saturday we have to turn around and win.’ I think we did a great job of that. James got us going with these three 3s in the beginning and Tom picked it up from there. They hit their runs and Coach Miles said they were going to make their runs but we never looked back.”
Nebraska was without freshman guard Amir Harris on Saturday. Miles said he’s being treated for strep throat and that he isn’t sure when Harris will be back in the lineup.
Next up for the Huskers is a trip up to Sioux Falls for a neutral site game against Oklahoma State at the Sanford Pentagon, an arena that seats 3,250. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. on Dec. 6 on BTN.
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.