Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Huskers Feel Unsatisfied, But Will Take 'W'

By Brian Rosenthal

Time used to be when a Nebraska basketball team would be overjoyed to defeat Wisconsin, a program with a penchant for deep NCAA Tournament runs, including a couple of recent Final Fours, and a ridiculous stretch of top four Big Ten Conference finishes.

Yet neither James Palmer Jr. nor Isaac Copeland cracked a smile when answering questions about the Huskers’ 63-59 victory Tuesday night over the Badgers before 13,497 fans at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

“We had some struggles at the end,” Palmer said, “and we just have to finish better than that.”

Not even the recollection of Isaiah Roby’s assist from his rump to an open Anton Gill for a 3-pointer generated much reaction.

“That was an exciting play,” Palmer said flatly.

OK, then.

Told they did not seem very happy, Copeland responded by asking, ‘Why would we be happy?”

Those who’ve followed this series could answer because it’s only the third time Nebraska has defeated Wisconsin since joining the Big Ten in 2011, or because the Badgers are generally a tough out on any night.

Then again, neither Palmer nor Copeland are much familiar with that. They only saw a rather ordinary Wisconsin team that is having trouble scoring and is now 9-9 overall, and 2-3 in the Big Ten.

They saw a team they felt Nebraska could have beaten easily, but did not.

Satisfied, they were not, and that is admirable.

Nebraska coach Tim Miles was a little more forgiving. He knows Wisconsin. He expected a rock fight, and he got one.

“I just told (Wisconsin coach Greg Gard) it’s like playing Jim Molinari’s teams,” Miles said, referring to his veteran assistant coach who is known for defense. “You just feel like you need a shower afterwards. They do a great job of making it difficult to score. You cannot extend a lead. Any mistake, they’re going to take advantage of.”

That said, Miles could understand his players being unhappy with their performance.

“I don’t think our mentality is where it needed to be, either,” he said, pointing to Nebraska’s eight assists, compared to 13 turnovers, those resulting in 23 Wisconsin points.

Wisconsin, for the most part, kept the game at its preferred slowed pace and turned it into a grinder. Nebraska finally began drawing fouls in the second half, entering the bonus with more than 15 minutes remaining in the game.

Palmer, 8-of-9 on free throws, led Nebraska with 18 points, and Copeland finished with 12. The Huskers also counted on a season high nine points from starting center Jordy Tshimanga, benched in the second half of Saturday’s loss at Purdue.

“Like Coach probably told you guys, he told me to stay with it,” Tshimanga said, “and my teammates here have been great with me.”

Tshimanga, who also collected six rebounds, shot 3-of-4 on free throws and was 3-of-5 from the field, including an alley-oop dunk on a pass from Glynn Watson Jr. that capped an 8-0 run for a 24-14 lead in the first half.

Wisconsin trimmed margin to four at halftime, and when Nebraska built its biggest lead of 13 points in the second half, the Badgers rallied again, this time pulling within four points with 4:45 remaining. That finished a 7-1 run after Gard, in his third season, had picked up his first career technical foul.

That’s as close as the Badgers got until two quick three-pointers in the final seconds – one after a turnover – kept them within three with less than a second to play. Evan Taylor (pictured above) then hit a free throw to prevent any miracles.

Nebraska, shooting 38 percent on 3-pointers in Big Ten play, attempted a season-low 14 against Wisconsin, and made only two, or three fewer than its previous season low. Both came from Gill, his second make coming on the aforementioned pass from Roby.

Gill had already missed a 3-point attempt but the ball caromed directly into the hands of Roby, who had fallen and was seated on the court. He simply flicked the ball back out to Gill, who hadn’t moved, and was still open.

He swished this one, a key play that came after Wisconsin had scored six straight points to pull within five. Gill’s 3-pointer pushed the lead to eight with 8:40 remaining.

Wisconsin had been 3-of-18 on 3-pointers and missed nine in a row before Brad Davison knocked in two in the final 6.6 seconds. Davison finished with 15 points, and junior forward Ethan Happ paced the Badgers with 19 points, 11 rebounds and four steals, although he finished 1-of-6 on free throws.

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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