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Huskers persevere program’s best start since 2003

December 4, 2018

LINCOLN — Tim Miles finished his on-court postgame interview with BTN, then turned around to James Palmer, who was waiting for his turn on the TV.

Miles smiled and hugged his star guard, patting him on the back. Miles needed Palmer Sunday, and the senior delivered with 23 points in Nebraska’s 75-60 win over Illinois.

The Illini (2-6) made Nebraska’s Big Ten opener a mess, with 31 turnovers between the teams and scoring droughts aplenty, including one from Nebraska nearly seven minutes long. With Illinois’ defensive pressure, Nebraska shifted from its usual high-volume 3-point shooting attack and drove into the lane looking for contact. The Huskers drew 23 fouls, shot 30 free throws — making 25 — and won their seventh game of the year.

“They made it really hard,” NU’s Isaac Copeland said. “They pressed up, shot through the gaps a lot, so I think we just stayed patient, and just looked for open cuts and stuff like that. And as long as we stayed patient we got what we wanted.”

Palmer drew nine fouls, shot 14 free throws and was able to find some space on the outside, making 3 of 6 3-point attempts. Illinois coach Brad Underwood joked his team tried to set a Nebraska record to see how many free throws Palmer could shoot.

“He’s an awfully good player and that showed today,” Underwood said. “Give Nebraska a lot of credit. That’s a veteran basketball team who jumped on us early, and it was uphill from the get-go.”

The 23-point effort was Palmer’s second straight 20-point game after scoring 20 at Clemson on Monday. Copeland added 16 points on 6 for 9 shooting from the floor. Glynn Watson and Isaiah Roby battled foul trouble most of the game but still scored a combined 22 points.

Nebraska, one of the best field goal shooting defenses in the country, held Illinois to 40 percent but the Illini hit 6 of 15 from 3-point range.

Giorgi Bezhanishvili led Illinois with 14 points and six rebounds. The Huskers held Trent Frazier, who scored 29 against No. 1 Gonzaga earlier this year, to 3 for 7 shooting and nine points.

Nebraska jumped to a 13-2 lead by turning defense into offense.

A steal led to a floater for Thomas Allen in the lane, then a block by Tanner Borchardt led to a transition layup for Watson. A 3-pointer from Watson made it 11-2 in less than three minutes and Underwood used his first timeout.

Watson had seven points in the first five minutes and 14 total.

Nebraska kept Illinois at bay for the most part from there. The Huskers never gave up the lead.

Though the Illini got within nine points a few times in the second half, Nebraska generally responded. Guard Ayo Dosunmu made a 3 and a free throw to pull the Illini within 54-45 with about 11 minutes left. But Palmer made a 3-pointer two possessions later to keep the lead comfortable.

“It was really important with these guys to get on top of them and then keep them at an arm’s length,” Miles said. “That’s been hard for a lot of teams to do. Gonzaga hasn’t done it, Notre Dame didn’t do. And we were able to.”

Nebraska turned the ball over 16 times, a season high. That’s something Nebraska has to work on over the next few days, Palmer said.

Then again, Miles said, that’s just how it goes when you play Illinois.

“They’re going to muck it up so to speak, and you’re gonna have to deal with it,” Miles said.

Nebraska is 7-1, the best start for the program since the 2003-04 season. That team started 10-1 and finished 18-13 under Barry Collier. The Huskers also have a 16-game home winning streak, the longest since 1983. From last year to this year, NU has won 10 straight Big Ten home games, the longest conference winning streak since 1967.

With wins over Clemson on the road and Illinois at home, Nebraska started 2-0 on a five-game stretch that could determined a lot for NU come March.

Up next is a game at Minnesota, which is 5-2 with wins over Texas A&M, Washington and Oklahoma State. The Gophers lost 79-59 Sunday to Ohio State.

After Minnesota, the Huskers host Creighton on Saturday, then play Oklahoma State in South Dakota on Dec. 16.

The grind might be why the Huskers didn’t dwell on Sunday’s win very long. When Miles walked into the locker room, someone had written “Minnesota” on the whiteboard.

“That is always a mark of somebody’s mind is in the right spot,” Miles said.

ILLINOIS (2-6, 0-1)

FG FT RB PF A Min TP

Bezhanishvili 6-8 2-4 6 5 0 22 14

Frazier 3-7 3-4 4 1 4 35 9

Feliz 1-4 0-0 3 4 2 20 2

Dosunmu 3-12 2-3 4 4 2 23 10

Jordan 2-7 0-0 2 3 1 32 5

Underwood 0-1 0-0 2 2 0 4 0

De La Rosa 0-2 1-2 1 0 0 4 1

Williams 1-4 0-0 1 3 0 23 2

Griffin 2-6 0-0 3 0 0 11 5

Nichols 5-6 0-0 2 1 1 24 12

Kane 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 2 0

Totals 23-57 8-13 30 23 10 200 60

3-point shots (6-15) — Frazier 0-1, Feliz 0-1, Dosunmu 2-4, Jordan 1-3, Underwood 0-1, Williams 0-2, Griffin 1-1, Nichols 2-2.

Team rebounds — 2. Turnovers — 15. Shot percent — 40.4.

NEBRASKA (7-1, 1-0)

FG FT RB PF A Min TP

Copeland 6-9 3-5 5 0 1 35 16

Roby 3-8 2-3 6 4 3 31 8

Palmer 4-12 12-14 3 0 4 38 23

Watson 5-9 2-2 6 4 3 24 14

Allen 2-4 4-4 2 3 1 31 8

Heiman 0-0 0-0 1 0 0 2 0

Borchardt 0-0 0-0 2 3 1 15 0

Akenten 1-3 2-2 4 1 0 13 4

Harris 1-1 0-0 1 1 0 11 2

Totals 22-46 25-30 35 16 13 200 75

3-point shots (6-14) — Copeland 1-1, Roby 0-2, Palmer 3-6, Watson 2-4, Akenten 0-1.

Team rebounds — 5. Turnovers — 16. Shot percent — 47.8.

Illinois..........................23 37—60

At Nebraska................ 39 36—75

A — 15,764. Officials — Terry Oglesby, Keith Kimble, Mike Eades.

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