Photo by Stephanie Carpenter/Nebraska Communications

Pinnacle Bank Arena Records Fall in Husker Victory

By Brian Rosenthal

Tim Miles told his Nebraska basketball players earlier this week that although Texas-San Antonio may not look the part, the Roadrunners do put up offensive numbers similar to that of Creighton or Kansas or Michigan State.

Any doubters got proof Wednesday night, when UTSA set a Pinnacle Bank Arena opponent record by making 15 three-pointers, on 31 attempts.

“One of our guys says afterward to Coach (Jim) Molinari, ‘I didn’t think they were like that.’ Well, yeah, they are like that,” said Miles, the sixth-year Nebraska coach.

Fortunately, Nebraska warmed to the fight, as Miles likes to say.

James Palmer Jr. and Anton Gill scored career highs of 25 and 21 points, respectively, Nebraska attempted 50 free throws for the first time in nearly 22 years, and the Huskers topped the century mark for the first time in 12 years in defeating UTSA 104-94 before 10,032 fans. The 198 combined points also set a Pinnacle Bank Arena record.

“We took their punches,” Gill said. “We had some low stints where we didn’t play well, but you know at the end of the day you have to make plays to win, and that’s what we did.”

Gill almost didn’t play. The senior guard had a migraine before the game and didn’t participate in pregame warmups. At that point, he was a question mark, but told Miles shortly before tipoff he’d give it a go.

Good thing, too.

Gill came off the bench – a big reason the Huskers had a season-high 40 bench points – and hit a couple of 3-pointers and added another basket for a quick eight points, helping the Huskers build a 14-point lead in the first half.

“We needed him,” Miles said.

Then, and later, too.

With 4:32 remaining and the score tied 86-86 during a timeout, Miles had designed a play for a zone defense, which UTSA showed out of the timeout. Isaac Copeland kicked the ball opposite to Gill, who hit a 3-pointer.

Nebraska got a stop, and Gill drew a foul on a missed 3-point attempt and made all three free throws. That was part of a 9-0 run that finally gave the Huskers some separation from the pesky Roadrunners.

“I think that just relaxed us a little bit,” Miles said.

Until then, the Huskers were anything but relaxed, what with Jhivvan Jackson and Deon Lyle hitting virtually anything they threw at the rim from 3-point range. Each made five 3-pointers – Jackson on 10 attempts, Lyle on six – and each came off the bench.

“They do an excellent job on offense, and our defense wasn’t good enough,” Miles said. “They just went one-on-one iso and made some big shots, too. You have to credit them for that.”

Nebraska, a dreadful team last season in defending the 3-pointer, had improved greatly in that area through 13 games. Maybe that’s why Miles took a calmer approach with his players during the game when UTSA kept hitting.

“If I was going to ruminate in the negative,” Miles said, “I would’ve said, ‘Yeah, they’re getting hot because we haven’t done this.’ Instead, I’m just like, ‘Listen, let’s just stay with it, let’s do a better job guarding the ball, hang with it,’ and try to stay with the guys a little more instead of flipping out of them – which I felt like doing, but I didn’t very often.”

Miles said roughly half of UTSA’s made 3-pointers he’d probably blame on the defense, and the others “they’d just stare us down and we were right there, and they make them.”

Nebraska weathered the 3-point storm because, well, for one, the Huskers weren’t exactly slouches on 3-pointers themselves. They made 11, tying a season high, on 24 attempts, with four makes from Gill.

Also, Nebraska enjoyed an incredible advantage at the foul line, making a season-high 37 free throws, on 50 attempts.

UTSA was 9-of-10.

“We had added a couple of little things to try to get to the foul line more, and we ran them and did get fouled,” said Miles, whose team had attempted only a combined 11 fouls shots over its last two games. “So that was a good start. When we can get downhill a little bit, I think it opens everything else up, too.”

Nebraska (8-5) hadn’t attempted that many free throws since Jan. 3, 1996, when the Huskers were 43-of-59 in an 85-69 home victory over Texas, a nonconference win during Nebraska’s final Big Eight Conference season.

Wednesday’s free throws were instrumental in Nebraska topping the century mark for the first time since it scored 107 points against North Carolina A&T on Dec. 19, 2005, under former coach Barry Collier.

UTSA, led by Jackson’s 26 points, fell to 7-6 with its second loss to a Power Five conference team. The other was a 97-85 loss at Oklahoma, and Jackson scored 31 in that game.

“They are a really good team,” UTSA coach Steven Henson said of Nebraska. “They have good depth, good size, good players. I’ve got a lot of respect for them. I’m really proud of the way our guys played.”

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

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