Behind a big second half from its all-conference-caliber guard in James Palmer Jr., Nebraska secured its sixth straight win with a 70-66 victory against Maryland on Tuesday night.
The win was Nebraska’s 20th of the season, just the sixth time in the 122-year program history the Huskers have reached that mark and the first time in the regular season since the 1992-93 season.
Attendance at Pinnacle Bank Arena was a raucous 15,397 as Nebraska improved to 11-4 in league play and 20-8 overall. Nebraska has won nine straight home games, the longest streak in the Big Ten, and is 14-1 overall at the Vault this season.
“It’s a great venue and our students and our fans are tremendous,” Miles said. “It was so loud tonight, it was awesome. That really has such an impact on our players. Our fans make a difference in winning and losing and this is a fun place to be.”
Palmer finished with a game-high 26 points on 10-of-19 shooting, five assists and four rebounds. Sophomore Isaiah Roby recorded his third career — and second straight — double-double with 11 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. Junior Isaac Copeland added nine points and nine rebounds.
“Well, the obvious answer [for why we won] is James Palmer’s outburst,” Miles said. “It was really uplifting. It allowed us to stretch out and get a bit of a lead. But I really think our defense and ability to keep them off the 3-point line and still rebound with them was just as important. It’s just not as pretty.”
Glynn Watson Jr. only finished with eight points, but he played a big part in limiting Maryland’s leading scorer, sophomore guard Anthony Cowan, to seven points on 3-of-13 shooting.
Maryland (17-11, 6-9) out-scored Nebraska 40-28 in the paint behind 21 points from freshman big man Bruno Fernando, but the Huskers limited the Terrapins to 5-of-16 from deep and 5-of-9 at the foul line.
After nearly two minutes of scoreless basketball to open the game, Isaac Copeland converted a put-back to get Nebraska on the board. He followed it up with a pair of jumpers and four rebounds as the Huskers took an 8-5 lead at the first media timeout.
At the 14:59 mark, Roby spiked a shot attempt by 7-foot-1 senior center Michael Cekovsky out of bounds, making Roby just the fifth sophomore in program history to record 50 career blocks.
Nebraska went two-and-a-half minutes without a bucket before Jordy Tshimanga dropped in a hook shot, but the Huskers held Maryland scoreless on the other end for nearly four minutes as they led 10-7 at the under-12 timeout. The two teams combined to shoot 8-of-24 from the field with three turnovers apiece at that point.
“I thought that we were a little nervous early.,” Miles said about the slow start. “I really do think we were nervous. I thought the moment kind of got to us a little bit and both teams knew what was at stake. These are two teams that have to put together a run. We’re in the middle of one. Maryland needs to get on one, and they’ve just beat a good Northwestern team handily and this was a big opportunity for them. So I think that gravity certainly sunk in, the gravity of that moment. I told the guys after the game, 'This is a special circumstance, but enjoy it. This is what you work for, so let’s relax. Let’s just stay in the moment, play great and don’t worry about, oh it’s a big game.' They’re all big.”
Maryland broke the cold spell with back-to-back buckets to take a 12-10 lead, but Glynn Watson Jr. knocked down a 3-pointer to put the Huskers back in the lead. The teams traded buckets — and the lead — before Maryland scored four straight to pull ahead 18-15.
Miles called a timeout and drew up a play for Anton Gill and the senior guard knocked down a triple to tie it up. Maryland jumped ahead by four, but Copeland responded with a 3-pointer then Palmer hammered home a dunk over Kevin Huerter to put the Huskers back up 28-27 heading into the final media timeout.
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The Huskers only mustered two points on a pair of free throws by senior guard Evan Taylor with 28 seconds to go the rest of the half, and a cutback at the buzzer by Fernando gave Maryland a 32-30 advantage at halftime.
After a quiet first half offensively for Palmer (two points on 1-of-6 shooting), the junior asserted himself right from the start of the second half, taking it to the cup on Nebraska’s first possession.
That first possession proved to be a harbinger of what was to come as Palmer took over the game. He scored 24 of his 26 points in the second half, while Isaiah Roby scored all 11 of his points after halftime.
"After halftime we just wanted to get to the rim more and be more aggressive, because in the first half we settled for jump shots, and in the second half we just wanted to get to the rim more,” Palmer said.
After ties at 32, 34 and 36, Nebraska went on a 7-0 run consisting of a 3 and a layup by Palmer sandwiched around a dunk by Roby to pull ahead 43-36. Nebraska maintained a five to seven-point advantage for most of the next four-and-a-half minutes until a 7-2 run cut it to 54-52 with 7:45 to play.
Palmer scored Nebraska’s next nine points to push Nebraska’s lead back to seven, but Fernando asserted himself inside and scored five points in a 7-1 Maryland run that cut it to one with 1:40 to play.
Palmer got past his man and put up a shot at the basket, but Fernando helped over and blocked the shot. On the other end, Maryland got the ball to Cowan, who pulled up from deep with 53 seconds left, but Watson closed out and got a hand on the shot to deflect it. Evan Taylor tracked down the board with 40 seconds left.
“Another tough loss for us on the road,” Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon said. “We keep competing out here and losing by three or four. I thought we were going to get over the hump tonight. We had the ball with 40 seconds to go, and we just couldn’t get a shot. It was a heck of a play by [Watson].”
Nebraska ran down the clock and Watson fired away from 3, missing hard off the rim. Roby secured the offensive rebound and held onto it until he was fouled. After splitting his last pair, the sophomore calmly sank both of his shots to push it back to three with 20 seconds to play.
Huerter scored a quick two to cut it to one with 11 seconds left and Nebraska beat a trap to get the ball to Watson to absorb a foul. The junior stepped up to the line and knocked down both, making him the 29th player to surpass 1,000 career points as a Husker.
"It really doesn't mean anything to me, unless we're winning,” Watson said about the milestone. “We've been winning. I haven't been playing that well on offense, but I just try to bring it on defense, and it means a lot that I got 1,000 points, but if you don't win it doesn't mean anything. So shout out to these guys [Palmer, Roby] for doing other things and [Palmer] being a great scorer, and also Roby."
Leading by three, Nebraska chose to foul Huerter and send him to the line with 2.8 seconds to play. Huerter made the first before intentionally missing the second, but Palmer grabbed the board and Maryland fouled him with 0.9 on the clock.
Palmer hit both shots to seal the game and tie the school record for points in a half.
“Well he got hot obviously,” Turgeon said about Palmer’s outburst. “Two of my best defenders to guard him, both have fouls. We made some mistakes too. We let him get to the rim … Palmer is good. I've watched him since he was a sophomore in high school. Nothing he did tonight surprised me.”
Nebraska will hit the road over the weekend for one last regular season game away from the Vault as the Huskers take on Illinois (14-11, 2-11) in Champaign on Sunday. Tipoff is set for 2:30 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.