James Palmer Jr. and Isaac Copeland put the Huskers on their back once again, but this time they had some help as the Huskers beat Iowa 98-84 on Coaches vs. Cancer Night at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Saturday.
Palmer and Copeland both topped 20 points while three other Huskers finished with nine or more points as the Huskers recorded their highest point total in conference play since joining the Big Ten. Nebraska (16-8, 7-4) shot 57.7 percent from the field including 57.9 percent (11-of-19) from 3, both season highs.
Coach Tim Miles said he was worried about the game turning into a shootout, but that is exactly what happened and the Huskers still prevailed.
“The one thing about Iowa is they can lead you right down the path of shootout,” Miles said. “They play quick. If they see an open shot, it’s going up. You can have a lot of quick possessions and I just didn’t know if we could keep up that way really.”
The Hawkeyes (11-12, 2-8) shot 50 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from deep, but it wasn’t enough to keep pace with the suddenly red-hot Huskers.
Copeland picked up where he left off against Rutgers on Thursday, knocking down his first five shots for 13 quick points before finishing with 23 on 8-of-11 from the field, 4-of-5 from deep and 3-of-6 from the free-throw line. The four 3-pointers tied his career-high set during his freshman year at Georgetown, and he also grabbed 11 rebounds for his second double-double as a Husker.
Palmer finished with a game-high 28 points including 18 in the second half and he dished out a team-best five assists as well. Palmer shot 7-of-12 from the field, 3-of-6 from downtown and 11-of-14 from the line.
“James can make so many plays,” Miles said. “I think the first half he had four assists right away. He’s willing to share the ball. He also knows when to take over. He’s been a very pleasant surprise for me in terms of how bought in he is to the game plan, how bought in he is to focus, concentration and all of those things that go along with it. Then when you put his talent together with his ability to score and take over a game was really good.”
Nebraska got big performances from both of its sophomores as well as Isiah Roby posted a career-high 17 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked three shots while Jordy Tshimanga finished with a season-high 11 points and eight rebounds in 19 minutes.
“I thought Jordy Tshimanga came in and did his best job of the year,” Miles said. “He got some extended minutes because he earned them and ended up with 11 points, eight rebounds. That was badly needed.”
Iowa jumped out to a 10-5 lead early, but an 8-0 Nebraska run consisting of a pair of 3s by Copeland sandwiched around a layup by Roby gave Nebraska the lead for good.
Iowa pulled within one three times, the latest coming just inside the 9-minute mark, but Nebraska closed the half on a 23-10 run to take a 48-34 lead into halftime. Copeland finished with 15 points and two assists in 16 first-half minutes. Iowa shot 4-of-9 from 3, but the Huskers one-upped them shooting 5-of-11 on the other end.
Palmer pushed the lead to 16 with a bucket on the first possession of the second half, but Iowa responded with a 13-2 run to cut its deficit to five. Copeland ended the run with a jumper, but the Hawkeyes kept chipping away, pulling to within two at 56-54.
“It’s obviously a game of runs, we just had to stay poised and make our plays,” Palmer said.
That’'s exactly what Palmer did, ripping off a personal 8-0 run including two 3s and two free throws before Roby got into the mix and knocked down a 3 of his own to put Nebraska up 67-54. Iowa scored on its next two possessions to cut it to 10, but freshman Thomas Allen knocked down a 3 from the corner and the Hawkeyes got no closer than 11 the rest of the way.
Toby put an exclamation point on the game without a minute to play with a dunk to give the Huskers their largest lead of the game at 17 before a 3 by Iowa created the final score.
For the first time in Big Ten play, the Huskers avoiding losing the offensive rebounding battle as both teams snagged 11 offensive caroms and the Huskers won second-chance points 10-8. The Huskers also dished out 18 assists, their highest total in Big Ten play.
Sophomores Tylor Cook and Jordan Bohannon notched 24 points apiece for the Hawkeyes.
The Hawkeyes are dead last in the conference in scoring defense, giving up 82.6 points per game in Big Ten play, but the 98 points Nebraska scored are the most the Hawkeyes have allowed in regulation this season and the second-most overall.
“I think at some level you have to give credit to the other team,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffrey said. “They are a talented group that shares the ball. That’s something that’s impressed me. They’ve got a lot of good individual players, but I don’t see any selfishness there. Yeah Copeland and Palmer, they’re the guys, but they give it up.
“Some nights it’s [Glynn] Watson [Jr.], Tshimanga played well tonight, some nights it’s [Evan] Taylor, they’ve got a lot of guys. Some nights its [Anton] Gill, other nights not so much. That’s what makes them so hard to guard. You know they’re going to spread you out, they run a lot of stuff, a lot of ball screen stuff, so you’re constantly trying to wall-off and then rotate, recover, take away penetration. Well then you might give up a 3, they had 11 3s.”
Next for the Huskers is a road trip to take on a pair of teams the Huskers have already beaten this season in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
“Defense travels,” Palmer said. “We just had two tough road games [at Ohio State and Rutgers], so it’s nothing new.”
Nebraska will head to Madison for a Monday night meeting with the Badgers with tipoff set for 8 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.