The Huskers are off to their best start since the 2010-11 season after clinching their 10th win in 12 games against Cal State Fullerton on Saturday afternoon. The Huskers toppled the Titans (3-9) 86-62 behind another strong defensive effort at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Announced attendance for the game — with students on break — was 15,088.
“The Husker fans are unreal,” Coach Tim Miles said. “I told our guys at halftime, ‘There’s not a team in the country getting 15,000 fans tonight unless it’s Kentucky, Duke or somebody like that. This is ridiculous. Let’s perform well for them.’ The game sputtered a little bit because of the fouls — we drew 24 fouls, they gave up fouls in transition, which is probably a good play if you don’t want to be on SportsCenter because we had some chances … We knew it was going to be a good crowd and it was awesome to be a part of. They got it cranked up a little bit tonight too.”
Senior James Palmer Jr. continued his hot streak, shooting 4-of-6 from deep and 7-of-14 overall en route to a game-high 23 points, chipping in a 5-of-7 effort from the foul line as well.
Junior forward Isaiah Roby scored a career-high 20 points and added eight boards, three assists and two blocks, but struggled with efficiency, shooting 5-of-13 from the field and 9-of-16 from the foul line with two turnovers.
“The guy took 29 shots tonight; he took four last week,” Miles said. “He can dominate a game. He can do so many different things. Isaiah just needs to keep playing strong and stay within himself and we need to stay with him and good things will happen.”
Senior point guard Glynn Watson Jr. struggled to hit shots as well, shooting just 3-of-11 for 10 points, but he made up for that with a career-high 10 assists and just one turnover.
“Coach always says Glynn sets the tempo for our team, he sets the pace, so when he’s playing hard like that and sharing the ball, especially in the second half we all started sharing the ball more,” Roby said. “The ball wasn’t sticking as much as it did in the first and we were able to extend our lead because of that.”
Senior forward Isaac Copeland Jr. added 12 points and sophomore wing Nana Akenten got the start in place of sophomore Thomas Allen Jr. for the second straight game, hitting three of his four 3-point attempts for nine points.
Nebraska shot 10-of-22 (45.5 percent) from deep but only 16-of-37 (43.2 percent) inside the arc as Fullerton outscored Nebraska in the paint 38 to 22. Neither side shot particularly well from the free-throw line, but Nebraska was plus-16 from the stripe thanks to a 24-of-38 effort.
The Titans beat the Huskers on the offensive glass 15 to eight but Nebraska held them to just seven second chance points and converted 16 Titan turnovers into 20 points on the other end. Fullerton shot 37.9 percent from the field overall and 4-of-19 from 3-point range with two of those makes coming in the final two minutes.
“There’s probably nine things we can take from that game and try to get better at, but at the end of the day, I thought we did a good job slowly extending the lead,” Miles said. “We had a situation — Tom was late — so I sat on him a little bit. Just a mistake, everybody makes ‘em. It kind of messed with our rotations a little bit, but when we got our normal rotations out there I thought everybody performed really well. We had one guard out there and a whole bunch of wings it looks like, right?
“But I was happy. The Fullerton team is really athletic, they’re quick to the ball. They do some things that we knew we’d struggle with. Their ability to get in the paint, score in the paint is one of them — they have big, physical guards. And they got us in the paint. But we were able to turn them over, we were able to get to the foul line, make enough 3s — the other stuff to make up for it.”
The Huskers got off to another slow start offensively as it took nearly two full minutes for the game’s first points, a 3-pointer by Palmer. The rest of the Huskers struggled to find the range but Palmer was locked in as he scored eight of the team’s first 10 points.
A pair of free throws by Palmer, a triple by Akenten and a layup by Allen — who checked in at the 14:12 mark — made it 15-7.
After a 3-of-13 shooting start, the Titans hit a hot streak, converting 4-of-5 attempts. However, a couple of jumpers by Watson and another 3 by Akenten allowed the Huskers to hold onto the lead at 22-16.
Fullerton went cold again, missing five straight shots, and the Huskers pulled ahead 27-16. A bucket by Palmer pushed the lead to 12 with just under four to play, though it proved to be the last field goal of the half by the Huskers.
Nebraska missed its last four shots with a couple of turnovers mixed in for good measure but shot 4-of-4 from the line to maintain its advantage. The Huskers led 36-25 at the half.
The Titans grabbed eight offensive rebounds (Nebraska only had 13 defensive boards in the first half) but only converted them into four points. However, the Titans did outscore the Huskers 20-8 in the paint.
Palmer led the way with 14 points on 4-of-7 from the field. Akenten’s two 3s were his only attempts. The rest of the Huskers combined to shoot 5-of-20 from the field.
Fullerton was 11-of-31 (1-of-11 from 3) with nine turnovers, and Nebraska converted those takeaways into 10 points.
The Huskers opened the second half with back-to-back 3s, then converted two traditional three-point plays to stretch its lead out to 48-31 at the under-16 timeout. A free throw by Copeland and a jumper by Allen pushed the lead to 20 before Fullerton scored.
Fullerton cut it to 15, then Nebraska pushed it back up to 21 a couple of times. The Titans made things a little interesting with a 9-0 run midway through the half, but Palmer’s fourth 3 of the game snapped it and sparked an 11-2 counter-run by the Huskers that pushed the lead back to 21 with just under seven minutes to go. The lead swelled to 26 a few times before a late bucket by Fullerton created the final margin.
Watson dished out his career-high 10th assist at the 2:57 mark before checking out for good, finishing with his first career double-double. The 10 assists are the most by a Husker since Lance Jeter in 2011.
“First of all, it tells you what kind of teammate Glynn is,” Miles said. “He’s a guy that, I think, searches for others and tries to get others involved and does a really good job … I’m happy to see it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens more often either.”
Miles sent the bench mob in to close out the final two minutes and freshman center Brady Heiman put an exclamation point on the win with an and-one dunk off a perfect pocket pass from redshirt freshman walk-on Justin Costello.
— Jacob Padilla (@JacobPadilla_) December 22, 2018
Nebraska will return to Pinnacle Bank Arena next Saturday to close out the nonconference slate against Southwest Minnesota State, a Division II team. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. CT.
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.