NU Rallies Past Rutgers Thanks to Palmer, Defense
Behind an opportunistic defense and a big second half from James Palmer Jr., a depleted Nebraska men’s basketball team rallied for a 68-61 victory over Rutgers Wednesday night in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament at the United Center in Chicago.
Palmer scored 27 second-half points, including five points during a game-changing 15-0 run that turned a five-point Husker deficit with six minutes to play into a 61-51 lead with 1:30 remaining. Palmer finished with 34 points, tying his career high and finishing one point shy of the Big Ten Tournament scoring record.
With the win, Nebraska improved to 17-15 on the season. The Huskers advanced to take on No. 5 seed and 21st-ranked Maryland on Thursday. Tipoff for that game is set for 25 minutes after the first game of the day between Ohio State and Indiana, which is set for an 11:30 a.m. (Central) start. The Nebraska-Maryland game will be televised on the Big Ten Network, with the Husker Sports Network providing live radio coverage.
While Palmer’s career night stole the headlines, it was Nebraska’s defense that keyed the victory. The Huskers forced 22 Rutgers turnovers, a season high for the Scarlet Knights and the third-most turnovers by any team in Big Ten Tournament history. NU recorded 12 steals – its second-highest total of the year – and scored 24 points off Rutgers turnovers.
Nebraska's defense keyed big runs in both halves. NU trailed for nearly all of the first half before holding Rutgers to just one field goal over the final six minutes of the half, allowing the Huskers to go on a 12-2 run to take a lead into the locker room. The Scarlet Knights then led for much of the second half, but Nebraska held Rutgers scoreless for nearly six minutes, during which time the Huskers mounted their game-changing 15-0 run.
Palmer produced his third 30-point game of the season – and fourth of his career – by getting to the free throw line. He was 14-of-22 from the charity stripe, tying his career high in makes and setting a new career high in attempts. Palmer also set a Big Ten Tournament record with his 22 free throw attempts, while his 14 made free throws ranked second.
Besides Palmer, Glynn Watson Jr. had 11 points and five assists, while Isaiah Roby bounced back from a slow start, scoring eight of his 10 points in the second half while grabbing six rebounds and blocking four shots. Johnny Trueblood came up big off the bench for the second straight game, scoring three points and adding four steals, while the Huskers were plus-20 on the scoreboard during Trueblood’s career-high-tying 26 minutes.
Eugene Omoruyi led Rutgers (14-17) with 16 points, while Myles Johns had a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Nebraska relied on its defense to overcome a slow start. The Huskers missed seven of their first eight shots and trailed 8-2 five minutes into the game. Rutgers then made seven of its next 10 shots to build a 21-14 lead with 6:03 remaining in the half. But Nebraska held the Scarlet Knights to just one field goal the rest of the period, closing the half on a 12-4 run. The Huskers got baskets from four different players during a 9-0 run to grab their first lead at 23-21. Rutgers reclaimed the lead on a pair of free throws, but Palmer hit a layup with three seconds left in the half to send Nebraska into the locker room with a 26-25 advantage.
The Huskers shot just 34.5 percent in the first half, while Rutgers was 10-of-19 (52.6 percent) from the field. But Nebraska forced 11 first-half turnovers – leading to 11 points – and the Huskers’ perimeter defense did not allow a 3-pointer.
The start of the second half mirrored the start of the game. Rutgers hit four of its first six shots, scoring on its first four possessions and using a 9-1 run to grab a 34-27 lead. The Huskers missed their first four shots and didn’t make their first basket until five minutes into the period, when a Palmer layup trimmed the lead to 34-31.
The teams traded points over the next five minutes, with Nebraska getting as close as one and never trailing by more than five. Palmer kept the Huskers within striking distance, scoring 16 points in the first 10 minutes of the second half, accounting for all but two Husker points.
Nebraska twice pulled within one and was down by just a single point at the eight-minute mark before Rutgers took a five-point lead with four straight points. The Huskers then turned up the defensive intensity, holding the Scarlet Knights scoreless for nearly six minutes during a 15-0 run, with 13 of the points scored by either Palmer or Roby.
Roby scored the first five points of the run and hit a pair of free throws to give Nebraska a 52-51 lead four minutes to play, a lead the Huskers would not relinquish. Palmer then knocked down a 3-pointer, Roby added another basket and Palmer picked up a steal and a dunk. The Huskers retained possession following a flagrant foul and Watson made two free throws to cap the run and give Nebraska a 61-51 lead with 1:30 remaining.
Rutgers’ Geo Baker snapped the 15-0 run and ended the Scarlet Knights’ 5:43 scoreless drought to cut the lead to eight with 1:10 left. But Rutgers was never able to get closer than seven the rest of the way. Nebraska made 4-of-6 free throws in the final minute to prevent any chance at a Rutgers comeback.
Nebraska Post-Game Notes
- The Huskers improved their Big Ten Tournament record to 4-7. It was Nebraska’s first Big Ten Tournament victory since 2016 when it beat Rutgers, 89-72 in opening-round action.
- Nebraska improved to 2-0 over Rutgers in the Big Ten Basketball Tournament.
- Nebraska was down eight points with 14:02 to play in the first half, but hit three of its last four shots to take a 26-25 lead at the half. The Cornhuskers led the Scarlet Knights despite being outshot by Rutgers, 53%-34%.
- The team went on a 15-0 run late in the second half.
- Nebraska led for a total of 5:47 in the contest.
- The Cornhuskers caused 22 Rutgers turnovers, tied for third most in Big Ten Tournament history.
- James Palmer Jr. scored a career-high-tying 34 points in the contest. Palmer's 34 points marked the second-highest scoring game in Big Ten Tournament history. He fell one point short of Northwestern’s Michael Thompson, who scored 35 points against Minnesota on March 10, 2011.
- Palmer was 14-of-22 from the free throw line against Rutgers. His 22 attempts were a Big Ten Tournament record, eclipsing the previous mark of 18 by Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger against Northwestern on March 11, 2011. Palmers’ 14 made free throws trailed only Sullinger’s 16 free throws against Northwestern for the most free throws in a Big Ten Tournament game.
- Palmer became the sixth Husker to score 600 points in a season as he had 34 points against Rutgers. He went over the 600-point plateau with his layup with three seconds left in the half. Palmer’s 627 points rank fourth on NU’s single-season list and the most since Tyronn Lue, who had 678 points in 1997-98.
- Palmer tied his career high in points, as he also had 34 at Ohio State last season. His 34 points is the second-highest total by a Husker in school history, trailing only the 42-point by Eric Piatkowski in the 1994 Big Eight Tournament.
- Palmer posted his 16th 20-point game of the year and fourth career 30-point game with his performance.
- With 14 free throws made today, Palmer broke the single-season record for most free throws in a season and now has 198 on the season. He was tied with Jack Moore, who had 184 in 1979-80.
- Nebraska held Rutgers to 25 first-half points, the lowest total since Northwestern had 23 on Feb. 16.
- Glynn Watson Jr. moved into a tie for second place on NU’s career games list with his 130th appearance on Wednesday. He is one away from the school record of 131 by Cookie Belcher (1997-2001).
- Johnny Trueblood had a career high four steals, nearly doubling his career total of five in 29 career games before today.
- Thor Thorbjarnarson scored four points, his highest total since scoring a career-high nine points in the opener against Mississippi Valley State.