For the first time in nearly a month, the Cornhuskers got to celebrate a win as Nebraska pulled off a last-second 62-61 win over Minnesota (16-9, 6-8 Big Ten) on Wednesday, snapping a seven-game losing streak.
Nebraska’s senior guards broke out of their slumps in a big way and carried the Huskers (14-11, 4-10 Big Ten) to a win at Pinnacle Bank Arena. James Palmer Jr. finished with a game-high 24 points on 7-of-10 from the field (2-of-4 from deep) and 8-of-10 from the free-throw line including the go-ahead foul shots with less than two seconds to play.
“It definitely felt good for us,” Palmer said. “We were working hard. I know we lost seven in a row, but even in practice, we still were going hard, harder and harder each and every time, and we just wanted to focus and come out with a defensive mentality. Thanks to the fans; they really showed support tonight. We appreciated it.”
Glynn Watson Jr., who had scored a total of 15 points in his last four games, put up 19 points on 8-of-16 from the field and 2-of-5 from 3-point range.
“It felt good,” Watson said. “I just stayed with it, kept working and the guys found me, and things like that. I just found the rhythm and got it going.”
The Huskers shot 50 percent from the field, the first time since their 94-75 win over Creighton on Dec. 8 that they reached that threshold.
Minnesota’s bigs had their way inside as senior Jordan Murphy put up 19 points and 13 rebounds and freshman center Daniel Oturu had 16 points, but the Gophers only outscored Nebraska 34 to 30 in the paint. Minnesota made one more 3-pointer and the teams were even inside the arc, but the Huskers were plus-four at the free-throw line and that was enough for the win.
After exploding for a career-high 32 points in Minnesota’s 85-78 win over Nebraska in Minneapolis on Dec. 8, junior wing Amir Coffey was held to just 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting. Nebraska mad the 6-foot Watson the primary defender on the 6-foot-8 Coffey for most of the night and also adjusted their screen-and-roll defense to help slow him down.
“Glynn’s quickness I think was pretty good,” Coach Tim Miles said. “Glynn got help too with the screen-and-roll guys. I trust Glynn a great deal and I thought he did a really good job.”
Things started off well with a stop and a layup by Palmer, but they went south in a hurry with a bucket inside by Murphy and a charge on Palmer that sparked a 10-0 run for Minnesota as the Huskers went scoreless for 5:15 before Palmer finally got a layup to fall.
Minnesota continued to pound the ball inside, stretching its lead to 11 at 19-8 before a 6-0 run by Nebraska. Oturu scored at the rim but Nebraska countered with an 8-0 run by Palmer. He converted a three-point play, then hit a 3-pointer, then got a steal and was fouled shooting a 3, hitting two of the shots to put Nebraska up 22-21.
Five lead changes and two ties followed as a 3-pointer by Dupree McBrayer gave the Gophers a 31-30 lead at halftime.
Palmer picked up his third foul at the 4:53 mark and took a seat with 12 first-half points on 5-of-6 shooting.
The Huskers shot 52 percent from the field in the first half but only 1-of-7 from deep. Nebraska played Minnesota to a draw in the paint, 18 to 18. The Gophers shot 50 percent form the field and 3-of-9 from downtown.
Nebraska hit its first three 3-pointers of the second half — one each from Thomas Allen Jr., Watson and Palmer — and pulled ahead 39-32, but Minnesota answered with a 3 from freshman Gabe Kalscheur on the other end.
Allen hit a runner in the lane to put Nebraska back up by six but Minnesota ripped off a 9-0 run in less than two minutes to pull ahead 44-41. Nebraska tied it up with a dunk by Isaiah Roby and a free throw by Watson.
Murphy scored inside then Nebraska scored five straight to pull ahead 49-46 midway through the half. Minnesota tied it back up at 51-51 and 53-53. Nebraska pulled ahead with a 6-2 run but couldn’t build off of it with a couple of empty trips and Murphy scored again to pull the Gophers within two with just over two minutes to play.
A turnover by Nebraska and an offensive rebound by Oturu led to a foul and Oturu hit two shots to tie it up. Nebraska brought the ball down and Miles called a timeout near halfcourt with 1:20 to play, but on the ensuing in-bounds Watson fell down and the pass went out of bounds for the turnover. Minnesota went inside to Murphy and he muscled it in to give the Gophers the lead.
Palmer drew a foul with 46.7 to play but split the free throws to make it a one-point game. On the other end, Minnesota put the ball in Murphy’s hands out on the wing and he tried to take Isaiah Roby off the dribble, but Roby drew the offensive foul.
“We had talked about that with Isaiah,” Miles said. “It was kind of funny; I said ‘Isaiah, man, you’ve got him set up perfectly for the charge.’ I think James said ‘Make sure he hits you twice,’ and I said ‘Forget that; go down the first time, he’s a big dude.’ That was earlier, like the under-8 or something like that. Isaiah, he knew what he was doing. I thought it was a good play.”
Miles called another timeout with 18.7 to play to draw something up. The ball found its way into Allen’s hands and he drove to the rim, but it got blocked from behind. McBrayer grabbed the rebound but stopped on the baseline, giving it back to Nebraska with 2.7 on the clock.
Without a timeout, Nebraska had to call a baseline play quickly. They ran a screen-the-screener action for Palmer and got him the ball near the baseline. He pump-faked then rose up to shoot and drew contact from Coffey for the foul.
“When I got the foul called, I was trying to draw contact,” Palmer said. “I pump-faked maybe once or twice, and he bit a little bit and I jumped into him, so I got the foul. The free throws, I had missed a one and one before so I knew I had to get two to seal the deal.”
This time, Palmer sank both. Minnesota didn’t get a shot off and the Huskers held on for the one-point win.
“I think what was interesting is a few of those guys you could see there was some relief, and then James Palmer is talking to them like ‘hey we need to build on this going into Northwestern. We need to get ready for this game,’” Miles said. “I thought that was a lot of leadership and a lot of maturity and that really did my heart well. There’s no foolishness or celebratory stuff, it was just, ‘let’s get ready.’ This is good. There was a collective sigh of relief, like ‘finally, OK.’ Glynn said something like ‘OK, now we’ve got one, we can go’. So I’m proud of them. They really defended well tonight, the kids did. Minnesota is a tough team, physical team, and we hung around on the glass. I thought our screen and roll defense was much better than the last time and just a better game plan, better execution.”
Nebraska was without sophomore wing Nana Akenten who missed the last couple of practices with an illness but went through pre-game warm-ups and was dressed for the game. Even so, the Huskers got some big minutes off the bench.
After starting the previous two games, sophomore Thorir Thorbjaranrson returned to the bench and only played six minutes but still scored two points, grabbed two rebounds and blocked one shot. Freshman Amir Harris went scoreless in 15 minutes but had three boards, a block and a steal and was a team-best plus-12. Freshman center Brady Heiman converted two layups and dished out an assist for a Palmer 3-pointer and was plus-9 in 10 minutes.
“I thought all the bench guys contributed positively,” Miles said. “Amir I thought played probably his best game since he got sick; he really helped us. Thorir had a nice little cut on the baseline at the end of the shot clock. Brady got a couple buckets. Those are really important; it gives the guys some relief and I think that really helps. We ran some subs in in the second half to make sure that we could, finish down the stretch. We didn’t have foul trouble, fortunately. And Amir was terrific tonight; defensively I thought he did some really good things.”
Palmer said the team didn’t let the losses impact how they worked on the practice court and the win was a testament to that work they’ve put in.
“It just shows that hard work overcomes anything,” Palmer said. “We were still working hard, no matter the losses. We just stayed locked in and knew our time was going to come. Hopefully we can build off this and make a run from here.”
The Huskers will get another home game on Saturday before hitting the road again next week as Northwestern is coming to town for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff on BTN. The Huskers have not played the Wildcats (12-11, 3-9) yet this season.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.