After 30 long days, Nebraska finally found its way back into the win column as a pair of free throws from James Palmer Jr. with 1.1 on the clock gave the Huskers a 62-61 win over Minnesota at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Wednesday night.
The big headline from the game was the offensive explosion by Palmer and Glynn Watson Jr. who combined for 43 points.
Though Palmer had continued to put up points during Nebraska’s losing streak, he had struggled mightily to do so efficiently. On Wednesday, however, he shot 7-of-10 from the field and 8-of-10 from the free-throw line.
Watson, on the other hand, had struggled to do much of anything over the past four games, totalling just 15 points during that span. He put up 19 on 8-of-16 shooting against the Gophers.
Another encouraging sign was the play of freshman guard Amir Harris, though he did not score a single point. Harris played 15 minutes, his most extensive run since playing 16 minutes against Western Illinois. It was just his second game with double-digit minutes in Big Ten play after he saw the court for 11 minutes in Nebraska’s first game against Illinois.
“It felt good just finding my rhythm and just being able to play in spots where I can rebound and get deflections and just get us open and running,” Harris said. “That was really nice because that’s what I’ve been doing in practice the past couple weeks, so being able to put it in the game really helped.”
Harris missed a month with mono in December and has struggled to find a consistent role since returning to health. However, Coach Tim Miles gave him a chance on Wednesday and he took advantage, finishing a game-high plus-12 in his 15 minutes. He grabbed three rebounds, blocked one shot, recorded one steal and missed his only shot attempt.
At 6-foot-6 and 205 pounds (depending on how much weight he’s put back on since recovering from his illness), Harris provides Nebraska with a lot of flexibility. When he first checked in, Nebraska essentially played him at the four spot and had him guarding Minnesota’s 7-foot back-up center Matz Stockman while senior Tanner Borchardt matched up with Minnesota power forward Jordan Murphy.
Harris did a solid job holding his own inside and Stockman’s only bucket came when Harris got switched off of him.
Harris has struggled to fins his place on the offensive end, but having a big guarding him could provide some opportuniities like this one below.
Harris trailed the play and circled behind Thomas Allen Jr. as the sophomore shoveled the ball to him. With Stockman guarding him, Harris used an in-and-out move to try to catch Stockman leaning and attack to his right.
Minnesota’s Amir Coffey dug in against the drive but Harris put the ball high to avoid him and continued to the rim.
Harris got past Stockman, but the 7-footer recovered pretty well and challenged the shot.
Stockman was credited with a block, but I’m not sure he actually got a piece of the ball. Either way, Harris just barely missed and the shot rimmed out. Nebraska didn’t get points on that particular play, but this is one way to get Harris involved offensively an dpotentially get some points from him. In general, Nebraska did a good job of creating downhill driving lanes for all of its guards and though he lacks any kind of jumper, Harris is very capable of attacking the basket and finishing.
After a handful of possessions, Isaiah Roby returned to the floor and pushed Harris out to the wing. He switched onto back-up Minnesota guard Brock Stull. He’s got a couple of inches on Stull and used his length to make life miserable for the senior guard. On this play, he deflected an attempted post entry pass to center Daniel Oturu.
Stull pushed Harris off (with no call) so the freshman couldn’t retrieve the ball for the steal, but Minnesota went on to brick a 3 later in the possession as the shot clock was winding down.
One thing I’ve seen from Nebraska’s guards is that they’ve missed some passes to their big men when they’ve gotten seals or slipped to the basket. However, that wasn’t the case during one of my favorite possessions of the game for Nebraska.
Palmer started the action by trying to get to the rim, but his defender cut him off. So he jump-stopped then skipped the ball to Harris on the opposite wing.
Harris had his eyes open and recognized that freshman Brady Heiman had Oturu pinned on the block. Harris made the post entry pass – a simple play, but one often not made – and Heiman faced up and skipped it across to Palmer for the open catch-and-shoot 3. Harris’ length certainly helps in this area as the 6-foot Watson or the 6-foot-1 Allen likely would have struggled to get the post entry past the 6-foot-8 Amir Coffey.
Harris took a seat after a stretch of 7:05 on the court during which Nebraska outscored Minnesota 18-8.
In the second half, Harris’ steal came when he helped off a back side guard and deflected an attempted post entry right into the hands of Heiman to force the Minnesota turnover.
His best play of the game was his block. With Nebraska holding onto a one-point lead with less than nine minutes to play, Harris was matched up with Coffey. Harris opened his hips up a little too much and gave Coffey a chance to get past him.
Coffey took advantage of the opening and shot the gap, and neither Roby nor Borchardt was in good enough position to truly challenge the shot.
However, Harris showed off his athleticism, flying in from behind to spike the ball out of bounds.
The block also produced the best part of the postgame press conference.
“It felt good,” Harris said. “I usually do that in practice too.”
A reporter asked him if it was Watson – who was sitting next to him at the dais – who he normally blocked.
“It’s a little bit of everybody,” Harris said.
“Hell naw,” said Palmer, who was sitting on the other side of Watson.
Harris wasn’t perfect; he got lost in help a couple of times and gave up a pair of open 3s that Minnesota hit. However, the Huskers were better with him on the floor and despite his lack of a perimeter shot, Minnesota didn’t treat him as a complete non-shooter which meant his presence wasn’t dsiruptive on the offenisve end.
“It was big,” Watson said about Harris’ perfromance. “He played some great defense, gave some good minutes off the bench, came in and got his number called. That’s big for us and we’re going to need it.”
Nebraska doesn’t need a lot of scoring out of Harris, but if he can continue to play like he did against Minnesota it will go a long way towards addressing the Huskers’ depth problem.
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.