As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end and that includes Nebraska’s stay atop the Big Ten standings after a 74-66 loss to Northwestern at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Sunday afternoon.
Nebraska (9-7, 3-1) ran into too many obstacles (hot shooting by the Wildcats, a rough game by Glynn Watson Jr., foul trouble for Ed Morrow Jr.) to overcome as Northwestern (13-4, 2-2) pulled ahead mid-way through the second half and made enough plays on both ends down the stretch to hold on.
Nebraska raced out to a 10-2 lead with five buckets by four different players. Northwestern rallied to pull within two at 14-12 at the second media timeout, but Nebraska had dominated on the glass. The Huskers grabbed seven offensive rebounds and scored eight second chance points in the first eight minutes. Northwestern had four total rebounds.
Then Northwestern got hot, reeling off a 13-4 run featuring three 3-pointers by sophomore wing Vic Law. The lead swelled to 10 on another trey, this time by junior point guard Bryant Macintosh, at 33-23 and Nebraska looked to be in trouble as the Huskers came up empty on the other end on the next possession.
Nebraska forced a turnover on defense, and then the game changed. Senior guard Tai Webster found Jack McVeigh, who had just checked in, for his first 3-pointer since the Garner-Webb game. It was the first 3-point attempt for McVeigh since Big Ten play began as he had played just nine minutes in the previous two games and did not play against Indiana.
Tai Webster picked off a pass on defense and took it all the way for a three-point play. Having switched to the 1-3-1 defense that Nebraska used to foil Maryland’s offense down the stretch, freshman Isaiah Roby stole another pass then ran down the floor and hit another 3-pointer, his first in Big Ten play after going 1-of-10 during the non-conference. Northwestern’s Jordan Ash badly missed a 3-pointer and Webster grabbed the board and went coast to coast for a layup. Evan Taylor picked off yet another pass with about six seconds to go and got the ball to Webster, who sprinted down court and pulled up for a 3-pointer at the buzzer that put Nebraska up 37-33.
The whole sequence, a 14-0 run, lasted 102 seconds. Northwestern Coach Chris Collins said his team was a little “shell-shocked” in the locker room at halftime.
“I thought we were playing really well in the first half,” Collins said. “We had a ten-point lead and the ball with three minutes to go. We had a careless turnover and it led to a three-minute meltdown on our part. Great job to Nebraska. We came to the locker room and had to regroup. We didn’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves, we had to move forward. It was a four-point game and they were able to push it up to seven there in the second half.”
Nebraska’s lead grew to seven twice early in the second half, but Northwestern rallied with a 19-6 run that included five 3-pointers and put the Wildcats ahead for good with 9:40 to go.
“Their defensive edge was good, and we weren’t,” Miles said. “We really lost an opportunity early in the second half. In the first five minutes, we’re up seven, and they don’t have a three. Then we go another six minutes, or five and a half minutes and they make five threes. We had some turnovers in there. We had a variety of groups blow assignments so our seven-point lead goes to a six-point deficit. That point of the game, even though there’s nine minutes left, it’s like they just ripped our hearts out. Anything we had built was history, and now here we are playing from behind again.”
Nebraska pulled within four a couple of times, but couldn’t ever string together enough stops and buckets to pull even or get ahead.
Ed Morrow was limited to just 17 minutes because of foul trouble, and when Miles sent Morrow back into the game with four fouls at the under-8 media timeout, Northwestern targeted him in the post with sophomore center Dererk Pardon. Morrow gave up deep post position on consecutive plays and Pardon scored on a jump hook both times.
Webster fouled McIntosh on a 3-pointer and the junior hit all three free throws to extend the lead to seven, and it bounced between five and eight the rest of the way.
Northwestern shot 51 percent from the field, 45.8 percent from deep and 92.9 percent from the free-throw line and the Huskers couldn’t keep up. After the hot start on the offensive glass, Nebraska only mustered four second chance points the rest of the way and finished even with the Wildcats on the boards with 30 apiece.
“I think you have to credit Northwestern,” Nebraska Coach Tim Miles said. “They came in and really played well. We jumped on them each half in the first five minutes, and they didn’t flinch. We weren’t able to capitalize on playing well to get enough stops. We blew defensive assignments. They made 3s, which was the number two key [to winning this game]. We just morphed into this team that was forcing the ball at the rim and just played that ugly basketball. You have to credit their defensive edge and intensity to create that.”
Webster led Nebraska with 17 points, but shot 5-of-14 form the field and had three assists to three turnovers. Glynn Watson Jr., fresh off a 34-point performance against Iowa, had six points on 2-of-11 shooting.
Law shot 5-of-6 from 3 for 15 points and Scottie Lindsey led all scorers with 19 points on 6-of-12 shooting
“I thought those two guards outplayed our guards,” Miles said. “We’re going to lose when that happens.”
Sophomore forward Michael Jacobson was big inside with 12 points and 10 rebounds, his second career double-double and the fourth straight Big ten game he’s grabbed nine or more rebounds.
Pardon, who had 28 points the last time he visited Lincoln, finished with 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting.
Nebraska will get the week off before hitting the road for a game at Michigan on Saturday.
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.