Red State: Huskers Unleash Frustration, Top Jays
Assistant coach Michael Lewis paid close attention to his Nebraska men’s basketball players as they went through pregame warmups before Saturday’s game against intrastate rival Creighton.
Lewis reported what he witnessed to his head coach, Tim Miles, and told him the team was either nervous or laser-focused.
Miles, following Nebraska’s 94-75 victory over the Bluejays, knew for certain the answer.
“They were laser-focused," he said.
Indeed, they were.
No. 24 Nebraska, coming off a frustrating road loss Wednesday to Minnesota, blitzed Creighton with an early barrage of 3-pointers from James Palmer Jr., led by as many as 21 points and weathered the expected Creighton runs to end the Bluejays’ stranglehold in this series.
Creighton (6-3, 0-0 Big East Conference) had won seven straight against Nebraska (8-2, 1-1 Big Ten Conference) and had held the Huskers to an average of 58 points over the previous 14 meetings.
Years of frustration came pouring out for Nebraska, to the tune of 51.9 percent shooting from 3-point range and victorious battles over several 50-50 plays, much to the delight of 15,950 fans – the sixth largest crowd in Pinnacle Bank Arena history.
“Definitely before the game and all week in practice, we’ve been locked in and focused,” said Palmer, a senior guard who made a career-high six 3-pointers en route to a game-high 30 points. “Today, we were just so hyped before the game. We were just ready to play, and it really showed the first half.”
After the game, Nebraska players took to social media to remind everyone which men’s basketball team now controls the state.
Reddddd State 🔴🌽— Nana Akenten (@nbasfuture) December 9, 2018
Best atmosphere I’ve seen in PBA‼️‼️ Red State again🤩😁🔴⚪️⚫️— Isaiah Roby (@roby_isaiah) December 9, 2018
Vault Protected.. Red State 😎— Thomas Allen (@ThomasAllen12__) December 9, 2018
It’s a red state🤷🏼♂️🔴— Brady Heiman (@bradyph45) December 9, 2018
The 19-point margin of victory was Nebraska’s third largest in the series, and the Huskers extended their home court winning streak to 17 games. The school record is 20, set in the late 1960s.
“What a festive, great environment. It was like a big party,” Miles said. “Today was a great Husker day, that’s for sure.”
For Miles, his favorite part of the lopsided victory – his first in 15 career tries against Creighton coach Greg McDermott, spanning multiple stops for both coaches – was the fact every single player on the Nebraska roster contributed with a positive play.
“I thought every guy was locked in and played tremendous,” Miles said. “Because every guy made plays, you could see they were playing for all the right reasons. They were playing for a Husker victory.”
One primary example came late in the second half, after Isaiah Roby had come seeming out of nowhere to block what looked to be an easy transition lay-up for Connor Cashaw. It led to a layup on the other end for Brady Heiman and a 39-19 Nebraska lead.
Creighton looked to have another transition basket when Nana Akenten this time blocked Cashaw. Creighton initially had the offensive board, but Akenten poked the ball loose for a steal, which led to a scrum on the court, one that Akenten won.
The possession eventually resulted in Roby going to the foul line, where he made 1 of 2 free throws to extend the lead to 40-19.
“I thought our guys were really locked in and played a great game,” Miles said. “Every guy made these huge plays.”
Like sophomore guard Thomas Allen, who scored a career-high 18 points, with a couple of 3-pointers, with his father watching from the stands. The last time Allen’s father attended a game? Last year against Kansas, when Allen had 13 points on 3-of-4 shooting on 3-pointers.
Then there’s Glynn Watson Jr., the senior guard whose Husker career won’t go by without victory over Creighton. Watson scored 13 points and had five assists, with a couple of timely 3-pointers when the Bluejays kept trying to creep back into the game.
“Everybody played well. Everybody shared the ball,” Watson said. “Tom played great, James played great. It’s a great feeling. It’s a great team win.”
Creighton did cut a 21-point lead to 13 at halftime, and the Bluejays scored on eight of 12 possessions to start the second half. Problem was, Nebraska scored on nine of 12 possessions, and some 7 minutes into the second half, the margin remained at 13 points.
“We had no answer for them defensively,” McDermott said. “They won the 50-50 plays. They played like a veteran team that was desperate for a win.”
Creighton’s game plan, much like in last year’s game, was to clog the middle and take away driving lanes from Palmer, known for attacking the rim and drawing fouls. Instead, he fired away from 3-point range early, making his first three attempts, as Nebraska made 14 from beyond the arc on the night.
“James is a play-maker, and the bigger the stage, the bigger the performance,” Miles said. “He was terrific. It didn’t surprise me at all.”
In showing how veteran this team is, Palmer perhaps uttered the most impressive, meaningful words, when he said Nebraska, despite the glorious victory, still has business remaining.
“This one win,” Palmer said, “is not going to get us to the tournament.”
Reach Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.