For the second straight game, a late offensive rebound and score sunk Nebraska as the Rutgers Scarlet Knights escaped with a 65-64 win to earn their first Big Ten victory of the season.
The win is just the second for Rutgers in its last 41 conference games.
“We have to credit Rutgers and Coach [Steve] Pikiell,” Nebraska Coach Tim Miles said. “They really stuck with it when we got up seven and then got up five again. They just stayed with it and ended up finding a way to get their first Big Ten win. I credit our guys for hanging in there after a poor first half to fight back and take the lead, but we just made a few errors down the stretch, a couple turnovers and a couple fouls and that was the difference in the game. I thought we did a good job defensively for a long time, but we couldn’t get [Corey] Sanders under control. That was probably the story of the game.”
Nebraska got off to a rough start offensively but managed to keep pace thanks to five turnovers in the first six minutes by Rutgers. Nebraska got a boost off the bench from its freshmen with Jeriah Horne and Jordy Tshimanga providing some offense to help Nebraska take a 17-13 lead at the 10:25 mark.
What followed was one of the wort stretches of basketball in program history. Tshimanga’s running hook was Nebraska’s last made field goal of the first half. The Huskers missed their final 17 field goals of the first half, managing just four free throws in the final 10:25 of the half.
Rutgers led 31-21 at the break.
Whatever Tim Miles said in the locker room seemed to have worked, however, as a completely different Nebraska team can out after halftime. Glynn Watson got things started early with five points and two assists on Nebraska’s first four possessions.
Tai Webster got into the action as well, recording a three-point play to tie the game at 37-all just over five minutes into the second half. After a Rutgers free throw, Watson scored again to give Nebraska a one-point lead.
The teams traded buckets until a 7-0 run consisting of a Watson triple and four points by Evan Taylor gave the Huskers a 51-44 lead. However, the Huskers went cold again and Rutgers responded with a 9-2 run to knot it at 53-all.
Webster put the Huskers back in front, but sophomore Corey Sanders scored the next four to put Rutgers up two.
Enter Jack McVeigh.
The Aussie forward hit three triples in a four-possession span for a personal 9-2 run that put the Huskers up 64-59 with 1:31 to go.
After a timeout to regroup, Rutgers got the ball inside to 7-footer CJ Gettys and he scored to cut the deficit to three with 1:15 to go and Webster turned the ball over on the other end.
DeShawn Freeman attacked the basket and was rewarded with a blocking call, sending him to the line wth 40.3 to go. He hit both to pull within one. Webster had the ball again for the Huskers, and again he turned it over by dribbling off his foot with 14 seconds to play.
After a timeout, Rutgers put the ball in Sanders’ hands and the sophomore attacked the basket for an awkward runner that bounced off hard. However, for the second straight game, Nebraska wasn’t able to secure the de-facto game-winning rebound. The ball bounced back to Sanders and he laid it in off the glass with one second remaining.
Nebraska’s deep pass to Webster fell incomplete and Rutgers survived 65-64.
“We wanted to keep him [Sanders] on that side of the floor and he kind of went and tried to split it and when he picked the ball up it was low and there were guys coming at him so he just put the ball up and it goes off the backboard,” Miles said about the game-winning possession for Rutgers. “It doesn’t hit the rim, and Webster is engaged with C.J. Gettys and tips it and Corey’s momentum just takes him right there and it’s a point-blank layup. You kind of feel like it’s rebounding an air ball almost. That probably wasn’t what cost us the game. But he’s such a good athlete, he made so many other acrobatic plays that were well-contested. He really made a lot of plays tonight.”
Sanders finished with a game-high 25 points on 11-of-18 shooting. Three other Scarlet Knights finished in double figures as well.
Webster led the Huskers with 14 points including 10 in the second half, but he shot 5-of-15 from the field and had three turnovers to just two assists. Watson matched him with 10 second-half points of his own for 12 total, but he shot 5-of-12 and had two turnovers to two assists. McVeigh shot 4-of-7 from deep for 12 points and Evan Taylor added 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting.
The Huskers shot 34.8 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from deep. Nebraska out-rebounded Rutgers on the offensive ed 16-9, but the Huskers only converted their second chance opportunities for six points while Rutgers scored 11, the last two being the difference in the game.
Nebraska has now dropped four straight games and will head to Evanston on Thursday to take on Northwestern for the second time this season. The Wildcats are the ones who kicked off Nebraska’s losing streak.
“I think that’s my biggest concern is just keeping the spirits of our players up,” Miles said. “As a coach, this is part of the business. I’ve been a head coach a long time. I don’t know this is like 21 or 22 years or whatever it is, and you go through seasons and times like this. But at the same time I know we can compete with anybody, and I know we can compete with anybody anywhere. We’ve just got to keep teaching, keep these guys believing, and come out on top because winning can really energize you. You can’t let this define you.”
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.