Nebraska lived to fight another day on Wednesday thanks to a record-setting performance by James Palmer Jr. in the Huskers’ 68-61 win against Rutgers in the first game of the Big Ten Tournament.
The turning point in the game was a 15-0 run late in the game that turned a five-point deficit into a 10-point lead for the Huskers.
Senior walk-on Johnny Trueblood got things started for the Huskers with an absolute dime. Trueblood actually pulled the Huskers within one with a layup, his only bucket of the game, but Rutgers responded with four straight to pull ahead 51-46.
Earlier on this possession, Trueblood caught the ball on the left wing, pump-faked and drove toward the middle before kicking it out. Nebraska got the ball back to him on the wing with 5 seconds on the shot clock. Trueblood jabs towards the middle and his defender, Caleb McConnell reacted. That’s all Trueblood needed.
He blew past McConnell and had a lane to the basket with Nebraska’s frontcourt hanging out near the far side of the lane.
Rutgers center Myles Johnson rotated over to cut off Trueblood’s path and elevates vertically as Trueblood leaves his feet. Against Iowa, Trueblood found himself in a similar situation and ended up throwing up a wild shot over the help defender. He learned from that, however, as this time he left his feet looking to dump it off.
As Johnson rotated over, Omoruyi stepped in front of Tanner Borchardt. That leaves Roby open and Trueblood dropped the ball off to him. Roby just barely beat the buzzer with the two-foot floater to get the run started.
After five straight empty possessions (three by Rutgers, two by Nebraska), Nebraska ran a pick-and-pop with Roby and the junior caught the ball, pump-faked and drove, drying a foul from his defender. He hit both bonus free throws to make it a one-point game.
Rutgers went inside to Omoruyi on the block against Borchardt, but Trueblood was ready to make a play once again. After the post entry, Trueblood dropped down to be within helping distance.
As Omoruyi looked to make his move, Trueblood went for it, digging in and ripping the ball out.
Roby tracked down the ball to secure possession and push it up the floor.
Roby drew a foul and hit both free throws to give the Huskers the lead.
Rutgers got a good look inside for Shaq Carter but he blew it over a contest by Roby and Glynn Watson Jr. grabbed the board. He gave the ball up to James Palmer Jr. and Palmer ran off a ball screen from Roby, getting Omoruyi switched onto him. Palmer isolated on the left wing and hit a step-back 3.
On the other end, McConnell looked to force a pass into the post but Trueblood read the play and stole the pass to give the Huskers possession once again.
On offense, Watson ran a pick-and-pop with Roby.
Watson drew the defenders to him, getting Roby wide open.
Watson hit him with the pass, but instead of taking the shot Roby faked a pass which got Omoruyi to jump at him.
Roby attacked the poor closeout and got past Omoruyi.
Roby exploded to the rim as Johnson was too slow to rotate over and cut off the lane.
Roby finished with an impressive finger roll to put the Huskers up six.
McConnell forced up a bad 3 on the other end despite there being plenty of time left on the clock. On the other end, Nebraska swung the ball to Trueblood and he saw another lane to the basket, attacking along the baseline and trying to draw a foul. He got blocked but the ball went right back to him and he kicked it out to Palmer for a 3, which he missed.
Roby showed his incredible defensive potential on the next possession, shutting Omoruyi down before blocking a desperate shot at the rim. The ball went out of bounds, setting up a baseline out-of-bounds play. Palmer took it from there.
Omoruyi was whistled for a flagrant for the push in the back on Palmer’s dunk. Palmer missed both free throws but the Scarlet Knights failed to secure the board as it went out off them. Nebraska got the ball in and Watson got bumped for a foul. He hit both shots to cap the 15-0 run and put the Huskers up 61-51 with 1:30 to play.
Rutgers finally hit a few shots in the final 90 seconds and Nebraska did miss some free throws, but the 10-point cushion proved to be more than enough for the Huskers to get the win and move on to the next round of the Big Ten Tournament.
Roby, Watson, Palmer and Trueblood had their fingerprints all over that 15-0 run, and the Huskers will need more of that to upset the Terrapins on Thursday afternoon.
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.