Copeland Helps Huskers Earn Road Split
East Piscataway, N.J. – Isaac Copeland stood on the court minutes after the Nebraska men’s basketball team had squeaked out a 60-54 victory Wednesday night over Rutgers, waiting his turn for a live television interview.
“Are you as ready to get back to Lincoln as I am?” Copeland asked a member of the Nebraska travel party.
Why yes, indeed.
If only the long flight home had included two victories instead of one.
“We wanted to go back home 2-0,” Copeland said. “We thought we were better than Ohio State, we just came up short that game. We learned a lot, and we’ll carry it on with us for the rest of the season.”
Nebraska (15-8, 6-4 Big Ten Conference) salvaged a split of an usual two-game swing that kept the Huskers on the road for three days, and Copeland is a big reason why.
The junior forward, a transfer from nearby Georgetown, scored 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds to help Nebraska win its second conference road game of the season.
James Palmer Jr., coming off a career high 34 points in Monday’s 64-59 loss at No. 13 Ohio State, scored 18 points, and Glynn Watson Jr. scored 10, including a couple of crucial layups in the game’s final minutes.
“Anybody on our team can put up 20 points a night, but we’re better when everybody kind of spreads it out and contributes in their own way,” Copeland said. “That’s what we look for every night. We just want to win.”
Copeland’s 3-pointer with 7:25 remaining marked the only Nebraska field goal during a stretch of 10 minutes, 54 seconds of the second half. During that time, the Huskers committed 10 turnovers, yet remarkably never relinquished their single-digit lead, thanks to salty defense.
“We’ve got the length,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said, “and we do defend well.”
Indeed, the Huskers blocked six shots and held Rutgers (12-10, 2-7) to 33.8 percent shooting, including 2-of-12 on 3-pointers.
No wonder, then, the Scarlet Knights never pulled closer than two points during Nebraska’s cold spell, after trailing by as many as nine.
“We’ve got to score,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “We’re not the greatest scoring team to begin with, but when we have our nights when we’re making shots, we can beat anybody. The defense keeps us in all these games, and we’ll win a few of them, too.”
Point guard Corey Sanders, who entered the game averaging 18 points over four career games against Nebraska, led Rutgers with 14 points. Geo Baker and Deshawn Freeman each scored 10.
“They’re a handful, now,” Miles said. “But I thought we did a nice job chasing guys off the 3-point line, we contested shots, and then we’ve got some length inside that can help us out, too.”
The Rutgers Athletic Center crowd of 4,075 made significant noise in the second half, trying to will the Scarlet Knights to another close home victory over Nebraska. Last year, Sanders’ put-back with 1 second remaining gave Rutgers a 65-64 victory.
“We remembered that he torched us last time late in the game. That didn’t escape us,” Miles said. “I was worried when we started turning it over in the second half, that it was going to happen again.”
It didn’t, largely because of clutch plays down the stretch from Watson, the junior point guard.
With Nebraska clinging to a two-point lead and the RAC getting loud, Watson hit a tough, driving shot with 2:29 remaining for a 52-48 lead.
“I mean, I just had to be confident,” Watson said. “Everybody was believing in me, so I had to be confident.”
Freeman scored off on a put-back for Rutgers, Isaiah Roby made two free throws for Nebraska, and Candido Sa scored inside to pull the Scarlet Knights back within two points, 54-52, with 1:16 remaining.
Palmer pulled up for an open but quick 3-pointer that was long, but Copeland chased down the long offensive rebound, allowing the Huskers to milk more clock. After a Nebraska timeout, Watson again scored a layup, this time blowing past Sanders for a 56-52 lead with 29 seconds remaining.
Watson then drew a charging foul on Sanders, and Palmer made four free throws in the final 12 seconds to seal victory.
“I tell you, his grin from ear-to-ear in the locker room tells me his confidence is doing OK right now,” Miles said of Watson. “He made some really tough plays. I hope Glynn can build off that, because those are winning plays. You don’t win without them.”
Nebraska continues its stretch of four games in eight days with a home game Saturday night against Iowa. The Hawkeyes lost by 16 points at Rutgers last week and are coming off a home victory over Wisconsin.
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