Nebraska took care of business against Division II Southwest Minnesota State 79-38 on Saturday afternoon, completing the nonconference schedule at 10-1.
The Huskers (11-2 overall) overcame a rough start on the offensive end to run away from the Mustangs (7-4) for the 41-point win in front of an announced crowd of 15,057.
The game was a reunion of sorts for Coach Tim Miles as Southwest Minnesota State coach Brad Bigler is a former player of Miles’ at Southwest Minnesota State. Miles coached the Mustangs from 1997 to 2001.
“I’d just like to thank Southwest State and Coach Brad Bigler,” Miles said to open his press postgame conference. “Obviously he means a lot to me and for him to come up a day before a league game and play us on the road where we knew scheduling a Division II would not hurt us in the RPI and the NET, and all those things matter. So I just appreciate those guys because that’s a bit of a sacrifice too. They want to do well in their league, they have aspirations. But I just really appreciate them making this happen.”
Bigler said the Mustangs would take Nebraska up on the offer to play any time they want to give it to them and called it great experience for his team.
“With Coach Miles, he is like a mentor,” Bigler said. “When I came into college, I was fortunate enough to play for him for four years. He was a young coach at the time, and I just appreciated his energy at that point in his life. He made me a better player and a better person.
“As we go throughout our times, I remember working the North Dakota State basketball camp and at that time in my life I didn’t know if I really wanted to be a college coach. My dad was a high school coach, and I was prepared to be a high school coach and a teacher for most of my life. As we came out of the camp, we were walking down the hall and he really encouraged me. He said, ‘You really need to chase this. You need get after this and you need to chase this dream.’ At the time, I didn’t think too much of it, but I got away a little bit and I said you know what, he’s right. Then gave me the opportunity to be a grad assistant and it’s funny how things just kind of play out. My story is a little bit unique, being at the same place for 20 years… from a student-athlete to a volunteer to a graduate assistant, then an assistant and now the head coach. It is a unique situation where I don’t take it for granted and I am very thankful for this opportunity. I know it is unique.”
James Palmer Jr. did a little of everything with 16 points, six rebounds and five assists. Senior Glynn Watson Jr. finished with 16 points, five rebounds and four assists while shooting 4-of-7 from deep.
Isaac Copeland Jr. scored 12 points and Thomas Allen Jr., who was back in the starting lineup after coming off the bench in the last two games, chipped in 10. Senior Tanner Borchardt made his first career start for Isaiah Roby who was nursing a minor groin injury and finished with four points on 2-of-2 shooting with nine rebounds (five offensive) and a steal in a career-high 17 minutes. Borchardt said he learned that he would be getting the start at shoot around on Saturday morning.
“Roby was kind of limited during practice, so I already kind of knew,” Borchardt said. “But I've been in the lineup and I've been preparing for this moment all season, so I was ready to go.”
After a poor-shooting first half, the Huskers converted better than 50 percent of their looks to finish 43.9 percent from the field including 11-of-24 from deep. The Huskers shot 10-of-11 from the foul line and dished out 15 assists with just six turnovers.
Nebraska held the Mustangs to 16-of-53 from the field (3-of-21 from 2) and 3-of-5 from the foul and forced 5 turnovers that they converted into 24 points.
“I was proud of our guys,” Miles said. “I thought they played with alertness on defense. We were very good on the ball … I thought our guys were very sharp. Their attention to detail was good and then fairly crisp on offense even though we didn’t make shots the first half. I thought we gradually got better as the game went on, shook the rust off so to speak.”
Nebraska raced out to a 12-0 lead before Southwest Minnesota State dropped in a floater three-and-a-half minutes into the game. Borchardt made an immediate impact, grabbing four boards (including three on the offensive end) and a steal before the first media timeout.
“Tanner was great,” Miles said. “He got us extra possessions at the beginning of both halves, and that first group, really until I subbed, was pretty sharp. I think it was 12-2 or whatever it might be and Tanner was a big part of that because we miss a shot, he gets it, and Tanner’s got better feet than i thin people realize. I think that’s from the old offensive line days at Gothenburg.”
Nebraska hit a rough stretch offensively as the Mustangs scored six in a row, but Palmer fed Copeland for a dunk then converted a fast break layup himself to push the lead back to double figures.
Southwest Minnesota State answered with a bucket, then two minutes passed without a point before Allen hit a 3-pointer to put Nebraska up 19-8. The Mustangs answered again, then both teams went ice cold. Neither four minutes went by without a point from either side before Palmer got to the free-throw line and sank a pair.
At that point, Nebraska led 21-10 and was 7-of-23 from the field.
The Huskers found bit of rhythm at that point, however, converting six of their next 10 shots, using a 13-0 run to pull ahead 37-13. They missed their last three shots, however, and the Mustangs got a couple of buckets to make it 37-18 at halftime.
Nebraska shot 7-of-13 from deep in the first half but just 6-of-23 inside the arc with four free throws. Nebraska grabbed nine offensive rebounds, including eight in the first 12 minutes but only converted them into nine second-chance points.
“I thought early we got a little bit — too many dribble 2s, trying to get too deep and just trying to bust through our one guy or whatever it might be,” Miles said. “We weren’t really reading plays and doing those things.”
Nebraska held Southwest Minnesota State to 7-of-24 from the field with nine turnovers, and Nebraska converted those takeaways into 16 points.
Palmer hit two 3s late after a slow start to finish with 14 points and three assists in the first half while Watson hit three of his four 3-pointers and scored 11 points.
Southwest Minnesota State opened the second half with a second-chance opportunity that ended in a dunk, but Nebraska countered with an 11-0 run that pushed the lead to 48-20. Borchardt got a layup during that stretch — his first shot attempt of the game — then grabbed two offensive rebounds on the same possession, leading to a triple from Allen at the top of the key.
“We just shared the ball,” Watson said. “We stopped playing one-on-one, things like that. We just needed to share it, take care of the ball and take open shots. We missed a couple open ones, but it's nothing we can't fix.”
The Huskers pushed the lead up as high as 35 midway through the second half before Miles sent in the walk-ons to close it out, and a layup by Johnny Trueblood pushed Nebraska’s lead to 36 around the five-minute mark and the reserves continued to build up the lead the rest of the way. All 10 healthy Huskers found their way into the scoring column.
Attention now turns toward Roby and his availability moving forward. Miles confirmed the junior forward is dealing with a groin injury.
“It’s always a concern to me,” Miles said. “He’s getting better every day, but you still have to go out and move. This game is about movement, so when you have an injury the way that he’s got it, you’re just concerned and I’m concerned, as anybody would be.”
The Huskers will dive into Big Ten play starting on Wednesday with a trip to Maryland.
“I'm ready to get rolling,” Watson said. “We get to play at Maryland, they're a good team, then we got Iowa away after that. So we got two away games we have to get ready for and come out with the wins."
Tipoff is set for 5:30 p.m. CT on BTN.