Huskers Lock Down Defensively in Second Half
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Huskers Lock Down Defensively in Second Half, Run Away from OSU

December 17, 2018

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — On Friday, Thomas Allen Jr. was in a hospital bed, working his way through a stomach virus. On Saturday, he stayed in Lincoln, unsure of whether or not he’d be able to play. On Sunday morning, about 7 a.m., he got up and drove to Sioux Falls with a graduate assistant to join the team.

Allen went through pre-game warm-ups to see how he handled them, but Coach Tim Miles chose to start sophomore Nana Akenten in his place. Three-and-a-half minutes into the game, however, Allen checked in and he went on to post his second-straight double-digit scoring game — the first time he’s done that at Nebraska — as Nebraska blew out Oklahoma State 79-56 at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Allen finished with 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting (2-of-3 from 3), two assists and two steals in 27 minutes.

“I’m extremely proud of Tom,” senior forward Isaac Copeland Jr. said. “Coming off the Creighton game and he was getting sick, I’m like ‘Man, he’s on a good roll right now, we have to keep him going.’ He drove here at like 6 o’clock in the morning or something like that, came out and played really well for us, so I’m proud of him.”

After a sloppy, physical first half, Nebraska (9-2) ran away from the Cowboys (4-6) in the second half, outscoring them 47-26 to turn a to-point halftime lead into a blowout victory. Official attendance for the neutral site game was 3,420, though the vast majority of them were wearing red.

“It was an exciting crowd,” senior guard James Palmer Jr. said. “It basically sounded like a home game for us. Nebraska fans really came out tonight supporting us.”

Miles said he was glad to have a chance to bring his team to his home state.

“Personally, as you can tell, I’m so happy to bring the Husker team up to such a strong fan base,” Miles said. “Our fans were awesome. The fans were just unbelievable tonight, and I’m sure there were a lot of people that aren’t Pinnacle Bank Arena people, even though there were some there. They were locals or Nebraskans or Iowans or whatever that love Nebraska. It was really a lot of fun. I think it maybe caught our guys off-guard a little bit that it was such a pro-Husker crowd. I don’t know if they knew exactly what to expect.”

Palmer led everyone with 29 points and five assists. He continued his hot perimeter shooting from the Creighton game, converting three of his four attempts, and also shot 14-of-15 from the foul line, though he struggled inside the arc (3-of-13).

Copeland added 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting and grabbed five boards. Junior forward Isaiah Roby pitched in five points, seven rebounds, four steals, an assist and a block.

Nebraska shot 8-of-18 from deep and held the Cowboys, 11th in the country in 3-point shooting at 41.6 percent, to 2-of-15 from deep.

“I remember Tom Osborne and I met two years ago, and you always have game goals but he said ‘What’s a perfect game look like to you?’” Miles said. “For us, we had to win the 3-point battle by five percentage points and three makes, no matter what, and we did that tonight … I think it’s really important when you are able to battle with teams like this, especially take away the 3, and then we got a good rhythm — James shot it pretty well, Tom hit a couple really important ones, Cope got one too. The fact that a variety of players — we didn’t have to just rely on any one guy — helped us.”

Part of the reason Nebraska was interested in being involved in the Sanford Pentagon’s annual Division I game was because of Miles’ roots in the Dakotas and his family that lives there.

“It meant a lot to us,” Copeland said. “It was bigger than basketball tonight. Coach Miles is from here. He didn’t want to talk about it too much but we all knew in the back of his mind he didn’t want to lose at home, so it was a big win for us.”

Nebraska got off to a slow start offensively against Oklahoma State’s pressure. Just over three minutes into the game, the Huskers had two points, two missed shots and three turnovers. The offense did pick up much from there, however, as both sides struggled with turnovers.

Palmer gave the the Huskers a 10-9 lead with his first 3 of the game, but Oklahoma State countered with back-to-back layups to make it 13-0. Palmer answered with a layup, then both sides went ice cold.

Oklahoma State went 3:31 before scoring again, while Nebraska went scoreless for 3:35. Another 3 by Palmer tied it at 15-all. The struggles resumed after that, however, and Nebraska’s shooting drought extended into a 1-for-10 stretch. Oklahoma State went 1-for-7 though and didn’t create any separation.

Looking for a spark, Miles looked deep down his bench and sent sophomore guard Thorir Thorbjarnarson in. The Icelandic native made an immediate impact, driving the baseline against Oklahoma State’s zone and dishing it off to Copeland for a dunk that put the Huskers up 17-16.

Another Nebraska turnover led to a transition dunk, then a charge against Thorbjarnarsopn — the third of the half whistled against Nebraska — led to a 3-pointer that put Oklahoma State up 21-17.

After trading points, freshman forward Yor Anei stuffed a Palmer layup and the Cowboys got another triple on the other end to take their largest lead of the game. Out of the under-4 media timeout, Copeland knocked down a jumper from the right corner that was later changed from a 3 to a 2, but Oklahoma State answered with a layup.

The last two-and-a-half minutes belonged to the Huskers. Copeland knocked down another jumper — this one from behind the arc, then Nebraska forced back-to-back shot clock violations. Palmer’s third 3 of the half made it a one-point game, then Oklahoma State’s Michael Weathers got called for a push-off with 18 seconds left in the half. 

The Huskers worked the clock down then found Watson for a corner 3 right in front of the Oklahoma State bench with a couple seconds to play. Roby stole the ensuing in-bounds pass but couldn’t get a shot off before the buzzer.

Nebraska led 32-30 at the break despite Oklahoma State having a 9-3 edge in points off turnovers, a 20-10 edge in points in the paint and a 7-2 edge in second chance points.

“The proximity of the environment I think made it feel like they were pressuring harder and they started switching all our stuff,” Miles said. “Just the way it felt to me, the guys were like, ‘Eh.’ It’s like you’re trying to break a horse and they’re chomping on the bit, they’re not really taking it. I thought the last three-and-a-half minutes of the first half, we changed one of our entries into our offense and that really helped. We cut harder, moved better. And then we really played defense well down the stretch. I thought we got stronger as the game went on.”

Palmer led all scorers with 16 points in the first half while Waters had 13 for the Cowboys. Nebraska continued its hot perimeter shooting form the last game, hitting 5-of-10 from 3 in the first half. Both sides had eight turnovers in the first 20 minutes.

Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton was issued a technical at the end of the half after Watson’s 3, so Watson shot two free throws before the second half began and hit both to make it 34-30.

Nebraska blew a pick-and-roll coverage on Oklahoma State’s first possession of the second half, leading to a dunk by Anei, but the Huskers locked in defensively from that point forward and took over the game.

The Cowboys went scoreless for the next 4:33, turning the ball over five times and missing five 3-pointers during that stretch. The Huskers built the lead up to 11 at 43-32 before Michael Weathers split a pair of free throws to get Oklahoma State back on the board. Weathers scored again to cut the deficit to eight but Allen beat the shot clock buzzer with a 3 and Nebraska’s lead never dropped below 10 again.

A 6-1 run capped by a bucket from senior Tanner Borchardt pushed the lead to 15. The gap bounced between 13 and 17 over the next several minutes until Nebraska delivered the knockout blow with a 10-run that made it 70-46 and the Huskers cruised from there.

“You saw guys like Palmer stayed with the game plan, didn’t get frustrated, was really encouraging his teammates,” Miles said. “Some other guys were a little bit frustrated here and there. But what a good night, because you had to grind out a win. It wasn’t the prettiest thing ever. It was a lot of fun. But the guys definitely, I think, as time went on we felt better offensively and we really took charge defensively.”

Miles sent his reserves in to play the final 1:23 of the game and Thorbjarnarson found freshman Brady Heiman for a layup, then redshirt freshman walk-on Justin Costello hit a deep, contested 3 to put an exclamation point on the win.

“Having Justin hit a shot and listening to that celebration, that’s a moment,” Miles said. “You don’t forget those moments as a player. That’s a pretty cool environment, a pretty cool happening. He and Johnny Trueblood informed me that they had won a championship here in AAU with the OSA team so they already were born winners and Justin proved that.”

Nebraska held Oklahoma State to 10-of-27 form the field including 0-of-9 from 3 in the second half and forced 11 turnovers which they converted into 22 points.

“I think they only scored once on our 1-3-1,” Miles said. “The second-half defense I thought was just really good. With Oklahoma State, the way they played so physical, you’ve got to run to the fight, and we didn’t. We kind of warmed to the fight, took a look at our blood, ‘Eh, OK, we’ll fight.’ I thought that was really good and you could see in the second half how well we played defense, and then we were able to get to the foul line early and often.”

Nebraska shot 18-of-20 from the charity stripe int he second half with Palmer attempting 14 of them. 

After a somewhat slow start to the season, Allen has scored 49 points on 18-of-28 shooting including 5-of-11 from 3.

“To come in and be able to understand the defensive game plan and what’s going on, I think you can see what we saw in him in the recruiting process,” Miles said. “Sometimes he’s kind of the fifth Beatle, and I think he did a great job tonight and made huge baskets. I took him out with 12 minutes to go int he second half, or in the game, and he’s like ‘I’m good, no, I’m good.’ I’m like, ‘No. you’re coming out before you need an IV.’ It was good.”

The Huskers will get a few more days off this coming week before returning to Pinnacle Bank Arena to host Cal State Fullerton on Saturday. Tipoff on BTN is set for 1 p.m. CT.

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