It wasn’t a perfect finish, but Nebraska showed that it did indeed learn from its loss at Illinois by closing out Indiana for a 66-57 win in front of 15,177 fans at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Tuesday night.
Leading by three with with four-and-a-half to play, Nebraska ripped off an 8-0 run to take control and closed things out from there. Nebraska held Indiana (16-13, 9-8) to 1-of-4 shooting, forced three turnovers and grabbed three offensive rebounds during that stretch, helping to offset six straight missed free throws in the final minute-and-a-half.
“I think we got stops,” Senior guard Evan Taylor said. “In the Illinois game, we allowed them to get second shots. Tonight, we got stops.”
Nebraska (21-9, 12-5) shot 51.9 percent from the field in the second half after mustering just an 11-of-35 performance (31.4 percent) in the first half. The Huskers shot 3-of-15 from 3 in the first half and 3-of-7 in the second. After not getting to the free-throw line at all in the first 20 minutes, Nebraska took 17 foul shots in the second half (although it only hit 10 of them).
“I thought it was interesting for our guys,” Coach Tim Miles said. “I thought the first half we were really jittery. Again, you could see that we shot 15 3s and no free throws, which is not like us. At halftime they talked about playing with confidence, this, that and that and the other thing. I’m like guys ‘Nobody’s game has changed in the three weeks. You know, what has changed is the circumstances. But, you should embrace that.’
“That is kind of what an upstart has to do, they have to win a game like this to gain that confidence. Especially, when you’re cruising along, you’re winning, you beat Maryland even though you’re a little tight. Then, all the sudden you drop one and its like ‘oh boy.’ You just can’t play like it’s ‘oh boy,’ you have to play like it’s ‘I know this is going to go our way.’ But, you don’t do that until you’ve earned it. And that was kind of tonight, one of those nights when I think we earned victory. I think it really helped them build that belief that we can beat anybody.”
James Palmer Jr. led the Huskers in scoring again with 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting. Isaac Copeland finished with 13 points despite shooting 2-of-8 in the first half. Isaiah Roby came up just shy of his fourth straight double-double with 11 points and nine rebounds.
Roby played a big role in the knock-out punch. After sitting briefly following his fourth foul, the sophomore returned to the court with three minutes to play and immediately found Palmer on a back-cut for a dunk, then grabbed an offensive rebound and hit a tough step-back jumper with the shot-clock running down to cap the 8-0 run that put the Huskers up 11.
“I think the important part was to finish the game with a great defensive stretch and control the ball on offense and put them away, stretch that lead out from five to 11 or whatever it was,” Miles said. “That’s one of those things that, with the first half and how we played, I wasn’t sure it was going to end like that. But as we got into the game there was no doubt.”
The first half was a comedy of errors as off-target passes, bricked jumpers, blown layups and careless turnovers prevented either team from putting together a run and taking control of the game. The first 20 minutes featured two ties, five lead changes and a combined 51 points on 61 shot attempts.
Nebraska put together a 6-0 run early on to pull ahead 9-4, the biggest lead either team would hold in the first half. Palmer stepped up early as Nebraska struggled to get its offense going, scoring seven of the team’s first 11 points, but he scored just two points in the final 11:55 and the offense struggled along with him.
Indiana tied the game at 14-all, then took a 19-16 lead with five straight points by Robert Johnson. Nebraska countered with another 6-0 run including Copeland’s first two buckets following five straight misses to open the game. Indiana tied it again, but a well-timed double-team by Roby and Copeland led to a steal by Palmer who pushed it up the floor and found freshman Thomas Allen in the corner for a triple with 1:52 to play.
The Huskers went scoreless the rest of the way, however, as Indiana pulled ahead with a pair of buckets to take a 26-25 lead into halftime.
The first five minutes of the second half included three ties and six lead changes as the two teams wrestled for control. Indiana broke a 37-all tie with back-to-back buckets to take its largest lead of the game at 41-37 with 13:50 to play.
After a rough sixty seconds of play by both teams that included two missed bunnies, two fouls and two turnovers, a three-point play by Evan Taylor sparked a 10-0 Nebraska run that gave the Huskers a 47-41 lead.
Taylor recorded seven points, five rebounds, two blocks, an assist and a steal in the second half after missing all three of his shots in the first half.
“Evan wasn’t, I didn’t think, wasn’t there the first half either but the second half when he came in, I think he made the most of his opportunity,” Miles said. “He made some big-time steals on hustle plays, tips, deflects, rebounds, scored at the rim in transition. Evan was really outstanding in the second half when we needed him. That is a huge luxury, having a senior like that coming off the bench and being able to play extended minutes in a quality game like that.”
Jordy Tshimanga recorded three rebounds, two points and a steal during that stretch, and a miss from the sophomore led directly to a put-back plus a foul by Glynn Watson Jr. Tshimanga missed seven of his nine shots including all four in the first half, but he finished with nine rebounds (including a career-high-tying six on the offensive end), four points, a steal and block in 12 minutes.
Indiana pulled within two three different times, but Nebraska’s 8-0 run put the game away.
Nebraska forced 19 Indiana turnovers — tied for the most this season by the Hoosiers — and converted them into 26 points.
“Yesterday in practice we really focused on defense,” Roby said. “We didn’t really do much, it was more of a mental day. But, it was probably 70 percent focusing on them, not on us. The coaches did a really good job of telling us what their game plan was offensively. We were able to disrupt them, frustrate them and get some steals and force them into some tough shots.”
Nebraska also grabbed a season-high 19 offensive boards, but the Huskers only turned them into 14 second-chance points.
“You feel a little bit better when you win,” Miles said. “We did not hustle the way we needed to in the first half, but we did in the second half. We did a much better job. Everything about our game in terms of our aggressiveness and the right way to play, you could see in the stat sheet but you’ve got to look for it. As a coach, you see it, as fans, you see that extra effort and it will show up in the right places.”
Nebraska picked up its 12th conference win (tying the school record set twice before) and 21st overall (the third time the team has won more than 20 games). Nebraska improved to 15-1 at Pinnacle Bank Arena with one game remaining and finished 8-0 on the season in games following one or zero days of preparation.
Nebraska will return to the Vault on Sunday to close out the regular season against Penn State. Tipoff on Senior Day is set for 4:15 p.m. 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.