Huskers end seven-year drought with 94-75 rout of Creighton
Finally, after seven years on the wrong side of its heated in-state rivalry with Creighton, Nebraska broke the curse.
Senior James Palmer Jr. dropped a season-high 30 points on 9-of-12 shooting while sophomore Thomas Allen scored a career-high 18 points for a dominating 40-minute performance, as the Huskers pulled out a 94-75 victory over the Bluejays for the first time since 2010.
Not only that, it marked head coach Tim Miles’ first-ever victory over CU coach Greg McDermott after losing the past 14 meetings dating back through previous coaching stops.
Palmer drained a 3-pointer to kick things off, and two And-1 conversions by Isaiah Roby and a three by senior Glynn Watson shot Nebraska out to a 24-14 lead just under eight minutes into the game.
The Huskers would keep on rolling with back-to-back 3-pointers by Allen and senior Isaac Copeland and eventually went up by as much as 40-19 with five minutes left in the half. But NU’s shooting would finally cool off and Creighton chipped away at the free throw line to keep within reach.
After a three by Palmer made it 43-22 with 4:25 to go, the Bluejays ended the half on a 12-4 run and closed the gap to 47-34 at halftime. Allen surpassed his season-high point total with 13 in the first half alone, while Palmer went 4-for-4 from downtown for 12 points.
“Definitely before the game and all week at practice, we’ve just been locked in and focused," Palmer said. "Today, we were just so hyped before the game, we were just ready to play and it really showed in the first half.”
Mitchell Ballock, who went 4-for-4 from 3-point range in the first half, hit two more in a row from deep to pull Creighton back within 51-42 two minutes into the second half.
But Nebraska would keep the Bluejays at arm’s length, and a 3-pointer by Watson followed by a put-back jam by Copeland gave the Huskers their biggest lead of the half at 72-56 with just under 11 minutes remaining.
That lead would get back up to 17 after three free-throws by Palmer with 7:33 left to play, but Creighton refused to go away and answered with a 7-0 run to cut it to 77-67 with six minutes still to play.
Nebraska went five minutes without a made field goal but made seven free throws during that stretch to keep the Bluejays at bay, and Copeland finally ended the drought with a 3-pointer to make it 84-70 with 3:30 left.
The Huskers would shut the door on CU from there, pulling their starters and pushing their advantage all the way up to a lopsided 19-point final margin.
"We scored on 8-of-12 possessions to start the second half, but they scored on 9-of-12 and our 13-point deficit was still a 13-point deficit six, seven minutes in when we pretty efficient offensively against a good defensive team," McDermott said.
"We had no answer for them defensively. They won the 50/50 plays today. They played like a veteran team that was desperate for a win, and they were very good today.”
Nebraska ended up shooting 56.0 percent from the field and a season-best 14-of-27 (51.9 percent) from 3-point range, and also had all five starters score in double figures.
Roby finished with 15 points, a team-high eight rebounds, and four assists, while Watson added 13 points and five assists. Copeland followed up with 11 points and seven boards.
“I think the two people that got the most out of this was definitely Coach Miles and Glynn," Roby said. "That’s an in-state rivalry and it just a big-time win for us. As a team, it was just big time.”
Ballock led Creighton with 23 points on 7-of-10 shooting from behind the arc. The Bluejays made 11 threes as a team but shot just 12-of-21 (57.1 percent) from the free-throw line.
Nebraska will get a full week off before returning to action for a neutral-site showdown with Oklahoma State next Sunday at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D. Tip-off for that game is set for 6 p.m. and it will be televised on Big Ten Network.
"It is meaningful," Miles said of the win. "Like I say, I won’t be happy until we get 13 more but, we had to get it and this is the kind of team that should get it. I think the guys were really locked in and played a great game.”
1. Nebraska wanted it more
Before the game, Miles said assistant coach Michael Lewis told him Nebraska’s players were “either nervous or they are laser-focused, and I think that we know where they were.”
While Creighton refused to go away and weathered numerous NU runs during the game, the Huskers never took their foot off the pedal for about as complete of an effort as they’ve had all season. It wasn’t just the 94 points on 53-percent shooting, it was the countless effort plays to win 50/50 balls that ultimately defined the victory.
Whether it was Nana Akenten diving head first for a loose ball, or Roby stealing an offensive rebound with one hand to set up a game-changing 3-pointer, or even Tanner Borchardt and Brady Heiman making key defensive stops in the paint; NU got critical plays from everyone who saw significant action on Saturday night.
2. Allen had his best night as a Husker
Nebraska got the type of production it needed from its “Core Four” of Palmer, Copeland, Watson, and Roby. But the real difference maker was Allen, who put together his best all-around performance as a Husker.
Not only did he post a career-high 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting, but he also tied his career-best marks with five rebounds and four assists while not committing a turnover in 35 minutes of work.
Miles said Allen looked like he “got shot out of a cannon tonight” with the way he was attacking the basket more than ever. Palmer said that was just a glimpse of the type of player Allen could become in time as his confidence continued to build.
“I think the best is yet to come for Thomas,” Palmer said. “Today was just a stepping point in helping us get that win, and we’re always preaching to him to be more aggressive, and today I guess it finally kicked in.”
3. Miles finally ended the McDermott curse
It had gotten to the point where Miles couldn’t even go golfing without people handing him Creighton golf balls as a jab about his winless head-to-head coaching record vs. McDermott.
His 0-for-14 tally and seven straight losses in the Nebraska-Creighton series weighed on him like a ton of bricks on his shoulders. Miles tried his best to play down the personal meaning of Saturday night’s victory, but there was no hiding just how big of a relief the victory was.
“I’ll be happy when we get 13 more,” Miles said. “It was a great day to be a Husker, but other that, we just march on… I’ll probably enjoy it on the golf course, but not until then.”
McDermott said Nebraska was a team that was “desperate” for a win, and the Huskers played like it. He also made sure to point out Creighton’s commanding lead in the recent series.
“We beat them seven times in a row," McDermott said. "So, talk about desperation.”