With the end of his career staring him right in the face, James Palmer Jr. put the rest of the Huskers on his back and carried them to a 68-61 win over Rutgers, extending Nebraska’s season for at least one more day.
Palmer scored 27 of his 34 points in the second half to lift the 13th-seeded and short-handed Huskers past the No. 12 seed Scarlet Knights in the play-in round of the Big Ten Tournament on at the United Center in Chicago on Wednesday afternoon. Palmer Shot 9-of-19 from the field (2-of-6 from 3) and 14-of-22 from the foul line, breaking Nebraska’s single-season record for free throws made with his first trip to the line.
Palmer’s 34 points tied a career-high and were the most a Huskers has scored in the Big Ten Tournament. It was one shy of the tournament record of 35 set by Northwestern’s Michael Thompson in 2011. The 22 free-throw attempts are a tournament record and his 14 makes are second behind Jared Sullinger’s 16-of-18 performance for Ohio State, also in 2011.
Senior walk-on Johnny Trueblood played 26 minutes for the second straight game, finishing with three points, four rebounds, four steals and two assists. He was plus-20. Miles subbed Trueblood at the 17:23 mark of the second half and the Elkhorn South product played the rest of the way. In fact, Miles went with the same lineup — Palmer, Trueblood, Isaiah Roby, Glynn Watson Jr. and Tanner Borchardt — for the final 16:27 of the game. Palmer and Watson both went the full 40 while Roby played 39 minutes. Just seven Huskers took the court for injury-riddled Nebraska but all seven found the scoring column.
Watson finished with 11 points and five assists, though he shot just 4-of-14 from the field. Roby missed his first six shots and finished 3-of-12 from the field but scored all eight of his second-half points during Nebraska’s decisive 15-0 run late in the game. He added six boards and four blocks to his total.
The Huskers shot 40.4 percent from the field including 3-of-15 from 3 but lived at the free-throw line (23-of-32) and forced 22 Rutgers turnovers. The Huskers outscored Rutgers 24 to nine in points off turnovers.
Rutgers shot 49 percent from the field behind 16 points from Eugene Omoruyi and a double-double (11 points, 11 rebounds) from Myles Johnson but a 33-percent turnover rate was too much to overcome.
Rutgers jumped out to a 12-4 lead as the Huskers couldn’t throw it in the ocean, missing eight of their first 10 shots. Glynn Watson got loose for a step-back 3 and drilled it, sparking an 8-2 run that pulled the Huskers within two at 14-12.
After trading scores, Rutgers scored five straight to pull ahead 21-14. Omoruyi — the team’s leading scorer who was coming off an injury the first time Nebraska played the Scarlet Knights and finished with eight points on 2-of-9 shooting — hit his first four shots and added a pair of free throws for 10 early points to help give Rutgers that seven-point lead.
Borchardt picked up his second foul at the 6:45 mark, sending him to the bench for the rest of the half and brining freshman Brady Heiman in off the bench. Rutgers attacked Heiman on his first possession, drawing a foul in the post, but he settled in from there, drawing a foul and scoring two buckets during a 9-0 run that gave the Huskers their first lead of the game at 23-21.
After a scoring drought of 5:18, Johnson scored inside to tie the game up. Palmer split a pair of free throws before Omoruyi went 2-for-2 on the other end to give Rutgers the lead again but it last less than 30 seconds as Palmer got to the rim and scored with a couple of seconds to play.
Nebraska took a 26-25 lead into the locker room despite shooting just 10-of-29 from the field. Palmer and Watson scored seven points apiece for the Huskers but shot a combined 5-of-17 from the field while Isaiah Roby missed his first six shots before finally getting one to fall, finishing with two points on 1-of-8 shooting in the first half.
Rutgers shot 10-of-19 from the field but turned the ball over 11 times and missed all five of its 3-pointers.
After holding the Scarlet Knights without a second-chance point in the first half, the Huskers gave up two offensive rebounds on Rutgers’ first two possessions, leading to five quick points (including Rutgers’ first 3-pointer) and drawing a timeout from Tim Miles 73 seconds into the second half. Watson picked up his third foul after the first offensive rebound.
Rutgers opened the half on a 9-1 run in total to pull aead 24-27 before Palmer scored four straight. That got Palmer going as he scored 16 of Nebraska’s first 18 points of the half to pull the Huskers with one one midway through the half. He hit his first four shots from the field and added seven free throws.
Johnson scored inside to put the Scarlet Knights back up three but Johnny Trueblood, the senior walk-on pressed into duty by injury, got his defender off the floor with a pump fake then got past Johnson with a hesitation move before scoring at the rim.
Rutgers answered with a pair of free throws and a dunk to pull ahead 51-46. Then the Scarlet Knights stopped scoring. For quite some time.
The Huskers ripped off a 15-0 run including eight points by Roby and a step-back 3 as well as a steal and slam by Palmer. Rutgers went nearly six minutes without scoring as the Huskers built up a 61-51 lead with 1:30 to play.
Rutgers hit a few shots down the stretch, but the Huskers hit enough shots at the foul line to prevent a comeback.
With the win, the Huskers will take on fifth-seeded Maryland on Thursday afternoon with tipoff set for approximately 2 p.m. CT on BTN. Nebraska is 0-2 against the Terrapins, falling 74-72 at College Park on Jan. 2 and losing in Lincoln 60-45 on Feb. 6.
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.