LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska is 3-0 in Big Ten play and tied at the top of the conference standings with Michigan State, although it feels like Thursday night’s game against Iowa should count for more than just one win for the Huskers.
It took every second of 50 minutes to determine a winner as Nebraska survived a double-overtime marathon, 93-90. It appeared as if Nebraska had won the game several times over — and then they promptly tried to hand the game back to the Hawkeyes just as many times. Yet when the buzzer sounded, it was Nebraska who was left standing, although barely in senior guard Tai Webster’s case.
“I just want to go home, to be honest,” Webster said after the game. “I can’t feel my legs.”
Webster subbed out one time in the whole game and only for a 79-second stretch in the second half. He played nearly 49 minutes while spending much of the game guarding Peter Jok, the Big Ten’s leading scorer.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey summed up a game that had a little of everything about as well as one could.
“There’s a lot of things to talk about and you don’t want to accentuate one thing,” McCaffrey said. “You have to talk about all the things that were good and all the things that were not so good and try to get better.”
The not so good starts with the free-throw shooting. Nebraska (9-6, 3-0) finished 19-of-35 from the foul line and junior guard Evan Taylor had a chance to win the game from the charity stripe at the end of regulation and missed both. Taylor also missed a pair at the end of the game that could have put Nebraska up five with about six seconds to go. Glynn Watson Jr. was the only Husker to shoot better than 66.7 percent from the line, and all six Huskers that saw double-digit minutes missed at least one free throw.
The other “not so good” thing was the defensive rebounding and second-chance defense. Nebraska allowed 17 offensive rebounds and was out-scored 27-5 in second chance points.
“I think you have to credit Iowa because for a long time tonight they kind of beat us at our own game – second chance points,” Nebraska Coach Tim Miles said. “Doing a good job on the glass, they just took it to us. [Tyler] Cook, [Cordell] Pemsl, all those guys were really good in there.”
The good starts with Watson, who exploded for a career-high 34 points and shot 7-of-8 from deep. The sophomore made big play after big play before fouling out on a charge with 2:09 remaining in the second overtime.
With their leading scorer on the bench, the Huskers’ defense stepped up to close out the game, holding Iowa scoreless after a 3-pointer by Jok put the Hawkeyes up 90-89 with 1:25 to play. Iowa committed two turnovers and missed two shots while Nebraska hit just enough free throws to pull ahead and win the game.
The first half featured a game of runs as Nebraska used an 8-2 run to pull ahead 15-8, Iowa countered with a 13-2 run to pull ahead 21-17 and Nebraska fired back with an 11-2 run to jump back ahead 28-23.
Nebraska led 37-34 at halftime. The Huskers — primarily Evan Turner and Webster — held Jok, the Big Ten’s leading scorer, to four points on 2-of-7 shooting but they also allowed redshirt freshman Isaiah Moss, who had scored 17 points over his past three games, to hit six of his first eight shots to gibe him 15 at halftime.
For the Huskers, Webster didn’t fair much better with five points on 2-of-7 shooting, but Watson made up for it with 15 of his own.
Nebraska built the lead up to as much as nine a couple of times in the first five minutes of the second half, but Iowa fought back and the final 15 minutes included nine times and five lead changes.
Tied at 74-all, Iowa got the ball into Jok’s hands and he tried to go at Webster. However, Webster knocked the ball out of his hands, Jeriah Horne grabbed it and threw it ahead to Taylor, who was fouled with about one second left. He missed both, sending it to overtime.
The Huskers looked to be in trouble after Watson slipped on defense and gave up a 3-pointer by Iowa freshman Jordan Bohannon then got whistled for a push-off on the other end. The sequence gave Iowa the ball with a four-point lead and 97 seconds to play. However, Webster got another stop against Jok and drew a foul on the other end, hitting two free throws to cut the deficit in half with 40 seconds to play.
The Huskers needed a stop, and once again it was Webster who stepped up to the plate as he picked off a pass thrown up for grabs by Iowa freshman Cordell Pemsl and was fouled. Webster hit both free throws to tie the game with 12 seconds to go, and Nebraska forced a tough 3-pointer by Bohannon at the buzzer that wasn’t even close.
After shooting 8-of-19 from the foul line in regulation, the Huskers were a perfect 6-of-6 in the first overtime period.
The second overtime included three lead changes and one tie, and the gap remained a possession or less throughout, but the Huskers ultimately pulled it out.
“The air could have gone out of the building at the end of regulation and it didn’t,” Miles said. “We just hung in there. We got the tip, then we played with a lead for a little bit, then it got weird. There was a foul and a basket and I don’t know; whatever happened. I really credit our guys.”
The weirdness Miles mentioned came with 1:46 to play as the official called a foul against Jok during a rebound, then decided to count the outback by Tyler Cook despite the foul appearing to occur before the shot. The bucket cut Nebraska’s lead to one and Webster split the bonus free throws on the other end.
In addition to his 34 points, Watson dished out four assists and grabbed three steals in 40 minutes. Webster finished with 23 points, seven assists, six rebounds and four steals. Horne scored 12 points off the bench in a career-high 27 minutes, but shot just 2-of-10 from the perimeter.
Jok came alive in the second half and overtimes to match Watson with 34 points and three other Hawkeyes finished in double figures.
“I don’t know that there could be a person at the game that didn’t just love being a part of this game, win or lose,” Miles said. “Watching those two guards go back and forth and Tai Webster doing his deal, it was really fun to be a part of.”
Miles said he wants to turn Pinnacle Bank Arena back into “The Vault” that it was during the arena’s first season, and Thursday was a step in that direction as 14,156 fans braved the single-digit weather to cheer on the Huskers.
“I thought the crowd was awesome,” Miles said. “They were a huge part of us and just hanging in there. They’re so supportive. It was easy for the guys to rally. We want to make this place involved again and we need our fans.”
The Huskers will get a couple of days to rest before returning to Pinnacle Bank Arena on Sunday to host Northwestern for a 1:15 p.m. tip-off 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.