At this point in the season, Nebraska is borrowing a motto from the late Al Davis.
“Just win, baby.”
To keep its tournament hopes alive, Nebraska has to win almost every game left on its schedule, especially those against the Big Ten cellar dwellers. That’s exactly what the Huskers did at Wisconsin on Monday, closing out the game on a 30-8 run to come back and win 74-63.
It was far from pretty, but stiff defense down the stretch and James Palmer Jr. taking over once again was good enough to get Nebraska’s first win in Madison since joining the Big Ten.
Nebraska (17-8, 8-4) trailed by as much as 11 points midway through the second half, but Wisconsin (10-13, 3-7) scored eight points the rest of the way. The Huskers, thanks in part to the 1-3-1 defense that has served the Huskers well throughout this season, held the Badgers to 4-of-13 from the field (0-of-4 from 3) and 4-of-10 from the free-throw line with five turnovers.
The 8-4 start to league play is Nebraska’s best conference record through 12 games since going 9-3 in the Big 12 in in 1998-99.
Five minutes into the second half, James Palmer Jr. had 7 points on 2-of-10 from the field, 0-of-6 from 3 and 3-of-3 from the line. The Huskers trailed 43-37 at that point. For the Badgers, all-conference center Ethan Happ had 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting at that point.
Palmer hit his first (and only) 3-pointer with 14:44 to play. Happ countered with what proved to be his final field goal of the night.
After that, it was all Palmer. He outscored Happ 18-1 the rest of the way to finish with a game-high 28 points and a team-best eight rebounds in 38 minutes. Palmer has scored 28 or more in three of his last four games.
Isaac Copeland posted his third straight strong scoring game with 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting including 2-of-2 from downtown and 3-of-4 from the charity stripe. Glynn Watson Jr. chipped in 15 points on 4-of-12 from the field and 7-of-8 from the line with five assists.
Nebraska shot 41.1 percent from the field including 4-of-19 from deep. Wisconsin wasn’t much better at 42.6 percent from the field and 7-of-20 from 3. The biggest difference came at the free-throw line, however, as Wisconsin took three more shots yet converted eight fewer. Wisconsin shot 16-of-31 from the line, with Happ shooting 8-of-19 by himself. The Huskers shot 24-of-28.
Wisconsin opened the game with a dunk on the first possession of the game, but that proved to be the only points in the first 3:43 as Nebraska started out 0-of-5 from the field and Wisconsin missed its next four shots.
Happ and Watson broke the cold spell as the two went back and forth over the next four possessions. Happy scored inside, then Watson answered with a jumper. Happ knocked down a 3-pointer — the first of his career — and Watson scored inside the arc again. Another 3-pointer, this time by Brevin Pritzl, put the Badgers up 10-4 at the first media timeout.
Whatever Coach Tim Miles said in the timeout seemed to work as the Huskers tied the game with back-to-back three-point plays when play resumed.
However, Wisconsin responded with an 8-0 run. Watson scored again, but freshman Brad Davison hit a triple to give Wisconsin its biggest lead of the first half at 21-12. After playing his first seven minutes without recording a stat, Copeland got into the game in a big way with a 3-pointer, a rebound and a dunk over the next two minutes to help Nebraska pull within five midway through the half.
The Badgers’ lead bounced between eight and five over the next four minutes until a 7-o Nebraska run knotted the game at 28-all. Happy split a pair of free throws to put Wisconsin back up by one, but Palmer knocked down both of his freebies on the next possession to give Nebraska its first lead of the game. Happy split another pair of free throws to tie it again, then scored just before the halftime buzzer to give Wisconsin a 32-30 lead at the break.
Wisconsin made the first two buckets of the second half to stretch its lead back to seven before Copeland knocked down his second 3-pointer 2:23 into the half.
Following Palmer’s 3-pointer that got him going, Wisconsin used a 7-0 run to push the lead to 10 at 50-40. Nebraska cut it to seven before Wisconsin pushed it back to 11 with four straight by Khalil Iverson including a highlight-reel slam.
Palmer scored 10 of Nebraska’s next 16 points as Nebraska took the lead at 60-58, and the Huskers closed it out from there.
After playing four games in eight days including three on the road, the Huskers will get the next week off before traveling to Minneapolis for their second showdown with Minnesota. The Huskers beat the Golden Gophers, ranked No. 14 at the time, 78-68 in Lincoln, but Minnesota has gone 6-7 since.
Tipoff on BTN is set for 8 p.m.
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.