After James Palmer Jr. put on his cape and led the Huskers to a near-upset of No 13 Ohio State on Monday, Isaac Copeland stepped up to the plate on Wednesday as the Huskers (15-8, 6-4) notched just their second true road win of the season, beating Rutgers (12-10, 2-7) 60-54.
"Short turnaround, we were just at Ohio State grinding and come down to the last minute, and lose that game,” Coach Tim Miles said. “And then grinded them back into oblivion today. They did an excellent job.”
Copeland finished with 23 points on 9-of-15 from the field, 3-of-5 from 3 and 2-of-2 from the free-throw line with seven rebounds and two blocks. The 23 points are the most he’s scored in Big Ten play and and the second-most he’s scored as a Husker.
“Isaac probably felt more confidence, hit a couple 3s, had a couple inside scores that were strong for us and made some really nice defensive plays on [Deshawn] Freeman,” Miles said.
It was Glynn Watson Jr. who made the two biggest plays of the game, however. Watson struggled again overall, shooting 5-of-12 from the field, but he did finish with 10 points (his fourth double-digit game in Big Ten play).
Clinging to a 54-52 lead with less than 45 seconds on the clock, Nebraska got the ball into its point guard’s hands. Copeland set a high ball screen for him, but his man jumped over. Watson lulled him to sleep with a hesitation move then blew by, finishing at the rim with a layup to double the lead with 29 seconds to play.
Palmer blocked a layup attempt by Corey Sanders on the other end, but Isaiah Roby committed his fifth foul trying to secure the rebound. Candida Sa missed the bonus free throw, but Rutgers grabbed the rebound before it went out off of a Husker. Rutgers got the ball back to Sanders, but Watson drew an offensive foul with 14 seconds left as Sanders pushed off and knocked him down.
“I'll tell you his grin from ear to ear in the locker room tells me his confidence is doing OK right now,” Coach Tim Miles said. “He made some really tough plays, the charge he took late and then that layup right before that. Those were big-time plays, and plays that we needed. I hope Glynn can build off that because those are winning plays. You don't win without them."
Palmer went 4-for-4 at the foul line to close out the game and create the final margin.
Three Scarlet Knights finished in double figures scoring but it took them 38 shots to score 34 points as Nebraska held Rutgers to 33.8 percent shooting including 2-of-12 from 3.
Palmer finished with 18 points, six rebounds and four assists, but he also shot 6-of17 from the field and turned the ball over four times. Nebraska didn’t shoot much better than Rutgers at 39.6 percent from the field and 5-of-18 from 3.
“We have the length and do defend well,” Miles said. “We held to them to 16, 17 percent from 3 and 34 percent from the field. That's pretty good D against anybody. I know that neither of us two teams are juggernauts offensively. I'm not going to pretend we're the Warriors. We're like the Doland Wheelers, which is my high school team.”
Roby did a bit of everything before fouling out, scoring eight points (mostly from the foul line), pulling down eight rebounds, grabbing three steals and blocking two shots.
The other five Huskers who logged minutes accounted for one point combined.
Palmer and Copeland did the heavy lifting in the first half, scoring 11 points apiece. Palmer also had all three of the Huskers’ assists in the first 20 minutes. Neither team led by more than one possession at any point as the half included five ties and six lead changes. Copeland hit a pair of free throws late to give the Huskers a 27-25 lead at the half.
The Huskers shot 11-of-28 from the field and had more turnovers (five) than assists (four), but Nebraska’s defense and Rutgers’ own offensive struggles led to a halftime lead for Nebraska.
The start of the second half looked a lot like the first with four lead changes. Watson did set up Roby and Copeland for dunks on Nebraska’s first two possessions, but Rutgers took a 32-31 lead with buckets on back-to-back possessions.
Watson responded with a tough floater, giving the Huskers a lead they would not surrender and sparking a 10-0 run. The Huskers followed up Watson’s bucket with back-to-back 3s by Palmer and Copeland and then a tip-slam by Copeland after Watson got a steal but missed the shot hard off the glass.
The run gave the Huskers a 41-32 lead five minutes into the second half. Rutgers scored four straight to cut it back to five, but Roby found Copeland for a layup to push it back to seven.
Then Nebraska fell apart offensively. The Huskers went nearly 6 minutes without a field goal, turning the ball over seven times during that span. However, Nebraska did make a couple of trips to the free-throw line and got enough stops to maintain a lead despite the offensive futility. Leading 44-42, Roby knocked down a pair of free throws and Copeland finally knocked down a triple to push it back to seven.
Rutgers wouldn’t go away, however, cutting its deficit to two three times before Watson’s bucket allowed the Huskers to close out the game.
Nebraska will return home to host Iowa on Saturday for Coaches vs. Cancer Night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. 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.