Nebraska’s senior day come-from-behind overtime win over Iowa featured some massive performances by Nebraska’s seniors.
James Palmer Jr. put up 27 points and six assists. Glynn Watson Jr. lit it up from the perimeter, shooting 7-of-12 from deep en route to a 23-point performance. Tanner Borchardt flirted with a double-double, putting up eight points and eight boards before fouling out.
But the most surprising senior contribution was made by walk-on Johnny Trueblood. The senior out of Elkhorn South had played just 37 minutes all season. He’d never played more than eight minutes in a game in his career. Yet on Sunday, he found himself checking in less than four minutes into the game and went on to play 26 minutes including the last 16 minutes of the game.
Trueblood did not score, missing both of his field goal attempts and all three of his free throws, but he still finished a game-high plus-18. He had six rebounds, four assists, two turnovers and two steals.
“He moved the ball, he was in position defensively, he rebounded the ball and just [made] a couple clever plays — gets defensive rebound ahead to Roby, gets the steal on the out-of-bounds play and gets it to Roby who ends up dunking it,” Coach Tim Miles said. “That’s Johnny. He’s got that about him.”
Trueblood spent most of his time moving the ball, setting off-ball screens and boxing out. He did get one catch-and-shoot look from 3 that was right on line but a bit short, and his other shot attempt was a drive where he got past a bad closeout but had two Hawkeyes rotate over and force a wild miss. He did make some huge plays, though, and he was involved in two game-changing sequences for the Huskers.
For much of the game, Trueblood was asked to defend Iowa’s stud freshman Joe Wieskamp who is listed at 3 inches taller and 11 pounds heavier than Trueblood. On this first sequence, Isaiah Moss missed a 3 and Trueblood boxed out Wieskamp.
The ball took a hard bounce and went over both of their heads. Trueblood kept battling to make sure Wieskamp couldn’t get to the ball cleanly.
Wieskamp eventually tracked the ball down in the corner and saved it from going out of bounds, but Watson was there to snag it for the Huskers. Watson pushed the ball up as the rest of the Huskers ran the floor. Trueblood sprinted to the wing and Watson swung the ball to him.
With Wieskamp late to get back, the Huskers have numbers and Trueblood has a couple of options (attack Tyler Cook’s closeout with the dribble, look to feed Tanner Borchardt who has his man sealed on the block, give it right back to Watson). He picks the right one, though, immediately making the extra pass to Isaiah Roby in the corner. The pass hit him right in the shooting pocket and Roby splashed the shot.
Iowa had just taken its biggest lead of the game at 16 a couple of possessions prior. Roby’s trey cut it to 12 and the Huskers continued to chip away at the lead from there.
Iowa brought the ball down looking to answer after Roby’s 3, but Palmer deflected an attempted pass from Moss, producing a loose ball.
The first man to the ground usually wins in these situations, and that proved to be Trueblood as he recognized that the ball was loose and dived after it.
Trueblood secured the ball and Wieskamp fell on him, resulting in a foul.
Nebraska didn’t get any points out of the ensuing possession, but the play certainly fired up the crowd and the other Huskers.
The other sequence was the one Miles mentioned in his quote above, and it happened in the final two minutes with the Huskers trailing by nine.
Jordan Bohannon missed a 3-pointer and Tanner Borchardt, who didn’t have great rebounding position, opted to tip the ball out instead of trying to grab it himself and likely get whistled for a foul.
Trueblood ran under the ball and and as soon as it hit his hands he was getting rid of it, passing ahead to Roby leaking out without a single dribble.
The pass was right on target over the top to a streaking Roby.
Bohannon managed to get back in front of Roby, but he one-two stepped to the rim and finished over and through Bohannon like he wasn’t even there.
Notice Trueblood isn’t in the picture when Roby finishes. As Roby was running back on defense, however, Trueblood kept going forward. He noticed how quickly and carelessly Moss was trying to in-bound the ball to Bohannon and broke on the play.
Before Bohannon was even able to turn his head up the floor Trueblood was there ripping the ball out of his hands for a clean steal.
Trueblood dribbled the ball out and pitched it to Roby who went at Iowa’s Ryan Kriener off the bounce. He hit him with a hesitation half spin then spun back towards the baseline for the blow by and the slam.
Roby’s back-to-back buckets (aided by Trueblood’s efforts) pulled the Huskers within five and began a 20-11 finish for the Huskers in the final 99 seconds.
Trueblood made another big play in overtime as well. After freshman guard Amir Harris had given the Huskers the lead with a strong take to the rim, the Hawkeyes had one possession to go for the tie or win.
They were a little lost on the possession. Trueblood is guarding Connor McCaffery who picked up his dribble in a tough spot. McCaffrey tried to make a pass but Trueblood got his hand on it.
He knocked the ball backwards with the seconds ticking down.
The ball went toward Bohannon but Watson knocked it away and was the last one to touch it before it went out, but by that time there was only 2.8 on the clock.
Iowa executed a play to get Bohannon the ball but Thorir Thorbjarnarson reacted in time to block the 3-point attempt and secure the victory.
Johnny Trueblood’s fingerprints were all over that win, and Trueblood said his success has given him confidence heading into the Big Ten Tournament, where he will be relied upon again to play a big role as one of just eight players the Huskers expect to have available.
“Definitely knowing what I have to do now, just hustling, just being the guy who brings a lot of energy and tries to get us extra possessions, extra plays, and just moves the ball on offense and all that stuff, get our guys in the right spots,” Trueblood said. “I gives me a lot more confidence. Even throughout the game the I was in, James and Glynn, they were all telling me ‘shoot the open shot, take it,’ all that stuff. They were really giving me confidence too.”
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.