Tim Miles changed shirts before his postgame interview.
Seemed rather insignificant enough at the time. Following the biggest game of Nebraska’s young season — and perhaps the biggest game of Miles’ Nebraska tenure — the head coach swapped shirt and tie for a black polo with Herbie Husker on the chest.
But then someone asked, why the wardrobe change?
“I was sweating so bad, it’s just ridiculous,” Miles said with this half grin.
He swept his hair to the side and looked around for the next question. Moving on. That wasn’t why he changed shirts, though. Maybe he just wanted to keep that to himself.
During his whole press conference, Miles was probed about what this one game meant to him individually. At no point did he make it about himself. No favorite part yet, the only indulging would be a cold Coors Light at home. “I’m proud of our guys,” he would say, deflecting to a possession here or a steal there.
Inside Pinnacle Bank Arena Saturday night, Nebraska steam-rolled Creighton, 94-75. It was the first Nebraska win in the in-state rivalry since 2010, Miles’ first win over Creighton as a Husker coach and his first win over CU coach Greg McDermott in 14 career meetings.
For the next year, Nebraska is a red state.
Throughout the entire game, you could see a team playing for that, something more than just itself. During the week leading up, the Huskers talked about winning for Glynn Watson Jr., Nebraska’s senior point guard who has been tormented by this Creighton game. They talked about winning for their fans and for themselves and for Miles. After, forward Isaiah Roby said Watson and Miles savored it the most.
How else do you explain away James Palmer Jr. knocking down back-to-back-to-back contested triples to open the game when he came in struggling from range?
Or Thomas Allen Jr., Nebraska’s sophomore off-guard, scoring 11 of his 18 points in the first 12 minutes and having the game of his career in the biggest game of his career?
Or reserve guard Nana Akenten throwing caution to the wind and diving to the floor for a loose ball. (You could hear things like “that never happens” from press row when it did.)
Palmer didn’t know he put up 30 on Creighton until he sat down next to Allen in the postgame and looked at the box score in front of them.
“I didn’t know you had 30,” Allen said to him.
“I didn’t either,” said Palmer back.
“And you hit six threes?”
“I ain’t gonna lie, I was feeling it.”
Anytime you get hot, you have a counter in your head. “Okay, I’ve got this many.” Plus, there are scoreboards everywhere. Look up at the video board, check the scorer’s table, ask an assistant on the bench. Palmer could have known if he wanted to. He just didn’t care.
There was a buzz around and inside the arena unlike anything I’ve ever experienced at a regular-season college basketball game. Inside, Pinnacle Bank has never been louder. Before the game, a member of the team told me the mindset was different this time around. Palmer and Nebraska were ready. Because Palmer and the rest of his teammates knew the importance.
Husker assistant Michael Lewis went to Miles in the pregame and said, “They’re either nervous or laser-focused.”
“I think we know where they were,” Miles said after.
McDermott said Nebraska played like a team “desperate for a win.” If it wasn’t leveled as a shot at NU, then everyone sitting in the media room was fooled. "We beat them seven times in a row.,” McDermott said with a laugh. “Talk about desperation."
Counterpoint: So what?
Desperation implies wanting something as deeply as you possibly could. Maybe Creighton should have played with a little more desperation. Nebraska simply wanted it more.
The fans did, too. McDermott had a reason to be a little chilly afterward. He had been harassed by the student section behind his bench all game. Fans showed up in FBI costumes and brought cash to throw around and giant cardboard checks made out to “Average High School Player” for “school supplies,” poking at Creighton’s reported involvement in the recent FBI investigation into college basketball. During stoppages, chants of “Greg’s a cheater” rang out.
This one had all the makings of a hate game. If Nebraska had lost, the talk around town was of the psychological impact. If you have your best team ever and you still can’t beat Creighton, what happens? Does the season unravel?
So, as it goes with a win, the talk now should be about what can be accomplished next. A win over a good Creighton team (CU was No. 33 in KenPom entering the game) might be Nebraska’s best of the season, even at the end.
Nebraska showed Minnesota was a slip-up and not any kind of trend to get worried about.
“It’s meaningful,” Miles said. “We had to get it and this is the kind of team that should get it.”
But he’ll enjoy the win on the golf course. In the locker room after the game, he thought of what to say to his team. He told them he was proud of them. He said, “I love going to war with you guys.” Then they showered him with water. While his team was dancing and clapping and celebrating, Miles stood there with as big a smile as you’ll ever see.
“I told them at the beginning of the year I feel like we can beat anybody we play at any time, anywhere,” he said.
And for the first time in a long time, that meant Creighton.
Go enjoy that Coors, Coach.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.