Run It Back: Can the Huskers Maintain Efficiency from Minnesota Win?
Photo Credit: Brad Rempel - USA TODAY Sports

Run It Back: Can the Huskers Maintain Efficiency from Minnesota Win?

February 08, 2018

Wednesday was an exciting time in Huskerland as Nebraska wrapped up a top-25 recruiting class on the gridiron. However, there is plenty of excitement around the basketball team as well as the Huskers are amidst the stretch run of the regular season.

Nebraska picked up a much-needed win at Minnesota on Tuesday as it seeks to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive. The Golden Gophers have been in a free-fall ever since Nebraska knocked them off in Lincoln as the 12th-ranked team in the nation, so a loss would have been costly.

The Huskers managed to secure a 91-85 win in Minneapolis, and they did it in a  completely different way than they’ve been winning recently.

In round one, Nebraska held Minnesota forward Jordan Murphy, who was looking like an early favorite for Big Ten Player of the Year, in check with 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting with one assist and three turnovers. All-Big Ten point guard Nate Mason finished with 20 points, but he shot 5-of-16 from the field and only three assists.

On Tuesday, however, both Murphy and Mason went off despite Minnesota being short-handed in terms of other difference-makers offensively. Murphy, whose play has tailed off in the Big Ten, finished with 22 points on 10-of-17 shooting and four assists to just one turnover. Mason was an even bigger problem, going off for 34 points on 10-of-20 shooting and six assists with one turnover. That’s not the defense that has gotten Nebraska to where it is today, especially on the road.

However, with the defense struggling the offense picked up the slack. In my last Run it Back column after Nebraska’s comeback win at Wisconsin, I touched on how reliant Nebraska had been on its top scorers to carry the load offensively. Against the Gophers, Nebraska got tremendous balance with all five starters finishing in double figures and the bench pitching in 19 points as well.

For much of the game, James Palmer Jr. was not the scoring stud he has been over the last half of conference play. Through the first 30 minutes, Palmer was sitting on 11 points and he picked up his fourth foul with 9:40 to play on a three-point play that tied the game at 62-all.

Palmer took a seat on the bench, and Nebraska proceeded to go on a 14-8 run without him to reassert control. Four different Huskers (Roby, Anton Gill, Isaac Copeland and Evan Taylor) scored during that stretch while junior point guard Glynn Watson Jr. orchestrated the run with three of his six assists. 

Palmer returned for the final four minutes or so and knocked down eight free throws to still finish with 19 points, tying sophomore Isaiah Roby for the team lead. While he wasn’t scoring at will like he has been, Palmer did display a new facet of his game that he hasn’t shown much of yet. The 6-foot-6 wing finished with a career-high nine assists (his previous best was five on a couple of occasions) and he did it while only turning the ball over once in 29 minutes. 

Palmer’s All-Big Ten campaign rolls on with another terrific performance.

Another Husker who has been playing well lately is Copeland, who had put together the best three-game stretch of his Nebraska career (23 points on 9-15 shooting; 23 points on 8-of-11 shooting; 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting) heading into Tuesday’s game.

Copeland’s efficient play continued into the Minnesota game as he knocked down his first three shots including a pair of 3-pointers to help Nebraska build up a first-half lead. However, his first shot of the second half came on the first play after Palmer took a seat with his fourth foul. He missed his last three shots to finish 4-of-7 from the field and 2-of-2 from the free-throw line for 12 points. 

Copeland has been playing far too well to go 10 minutes without even attempting a shot. When he’s hot, Nebraska has to feed him and get everything they can out of him. That goes both ways, though, as Copeland has to be more aggressive within what Nebraska is doing and find that balance between putting up too many tough shots (which he did quite a bit earlier in the season) and not shooting at all. Copeland also finished with just one rebound, one foul and one turnover as his only non-scoring stats. For a guy that has been a bit of a stat-sheet stuffer much like Roby, that kind of meager production is not acceptable.

Nebraska now has only one road game remaining, at Illinois (12-12, 2-9). The Huskers are 4-4 on the road in league play with a chance to finish above .500 away from home in conference play for the first time in a long time.  

The Huskers will be back at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Saturday for an afternoon meeting with Rutgers (12-14, 2-11).

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