Seniors step up in 93-91 OT thriller over Iowa
This season has been one to forget on many levels for Nebraska, but for one day, at least, the Huskers had plenty to cheer about.
After trailing by as many as 16 points early in the second half, NU – playing with just seven available scholarship players – rallied back to force the game into overtime and then pulled out a 93-91 victory to close out the regular season.
Senior James Palmer Jr. scored a game-high 27 points, including 21 in the second half and overtime, while senior Glynn Watson added 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting from 3-point range in their final collegiate home games.
The Huskers (16-15 overall, 6-14 Big Ten) scored 16 points in the final 47 seconds of regulation and made 10 of their final 11 field goal attempts, including nine in a row at one point, over those 47 seconds and overtime.
“That’s a special one,” head coach Tim Miles said. “I’m just so proud of these kids. They never stopped fighting, never stopped believing, and that was a really special day.”
Iowa (21-10, 10-10) made four of its first six 3-pointers to jump out to an early seven-point lead, but 10-2 Nebraska run got the Huskers back on top 23-22 with eight minutes to go in the first half.
A 3-pointer by Isaiah Roby tied it up at 28-28 four minutes later, but the Hawkeyes responded with a 9-0 run before Roby helped calm the damage with a three at the buzzer to cut it to a 37-31 deficit.
Nebraska held its own inside with an 18-12 edge in points in the paint, a 23-20 rebounding advantage, eight second-chance points and four blocked shots. But Iowa still controlled the half by making five 3-pointers, recording 10 assists on 13 made baskets, and only giving the ball away two times for a 10-0 lead in points off turnovers.
The disappointing end to the first half carried right on over to start the second, as Iowa kicked things off with a 10-0 run to take its biggest lead of the day at 47-31. Dating back to the final four minutes before halftime, the Hawkeyes outscored NU 19-3 over a seven-minute span.
“I just thought we were really soft the first 22 minutes of the game,” Miles said. “We didn’t close hard on shooters, we weren’t into the ball, we were OK on rebounding… Then we started playing much more aggressively.”
The Huskers stayed within reach with an 11-2 rally of their own and pulled within seven on a 3-pointer by Watson with 12:51 left to play. Iowa kept NU at arm’s length for the next five minutes, but Palmer scored four straight points to pull it back to a 59-52 deficit with seven minutes left.
Another three by Watson with just over six minutes remaining put Nebraska within five at 61-56, its closest margin since the final minutes of the first half. A pair of Watson free throws then got it as close as 65-61 with just over three minutes to go.
“We were going to keep fighting until the end, to be honest,” Watson said. “Everybody made big plays… Everybody did something to help the team win.”
A layup by Isaiah Moss on the ensuing UI possession was followed by a deep 3-pointer by Bohannon that pushed Iowa’s lead back up to 70-61. But then senior walk-on Johnny Trueblood came up with a defensive board and found Roby on the outlet for a layup.
Trueblood then stole the ensuing inbounds pass and dished it to Roby for a dunk, cutting a nine-point deficit down to 70-65 with 1:38 to play. A 3-pointer by Palmer and two free throws by freshman Amir Harris made it 80-79, and then Connor McCaffery made one of two free throws to leave it a two-point game with 18 seconds left.
Palmer took it to the rack for they tying layup with 12 seconds to play, and Bohannon’s three at the buzzer was off the mark to send the game into overtime knotted at 81-81.
“As a senior, no, I never doubted or thought we were going to lose the game, even when there was like one minute left and we were down by nine,” Palmer said. “I still thought we had a chance to win, and me and G (Watson) had to make some big shots.”
A layup by Thorir Thorbjarnarson gave Nebraska its first lead since the 7:17 mark in the first half at 83-81, but Iowa would quickly reclaim the lead on a 3-pointer by Joe Weiskamp that made it 89-87 with 2:26 to go in OT.
Another three by Watson put NU back up 91-89 with 1:34 left, and after Iowa tied it on two free throws by Nicholas Baer, the Huskers had a chance for the go-ahead possession coming out of a timeout with 29.4 left in the game and 22 seconds on the shot clock.
With time running down, Harris came up with a clutch layup with just 10.8 left to make it 93-91 Nebraska. After a loose ball out of bounds stayed with Iowa with 2.5 on the clock, Thorbjarnarson blocked Bohannon’s shot as time expired to seal the victory.
“I just saw the rim, man,” Harris said of his game-winning basket. “I do that every day in practice. I just try to attack; that’s my game… I just tried to make a play.”
Roby finished with 23 points and eight rebounds before fouling out late in regulation, while Harris posted eight points and a career-high 10 boards in 23 minutes of work.
Trueblood, who had never played more than eight minutes in his career, ended up with six rebounds, four assists, and two steals in 26 minutes – all personal bests.
“They all made huge plays, especially Johnny,” Watson said. “He hasn’t played really at all in three years, and then to come in and have a big Senior Night for us and made big plays for us, that was big.”
As a team, Nebraska shot 51.5 percent from the field and was 13-of-26 shooting from behind the arc. The 13 made threes were two shy of its season high, and it marked the first time since the win over Creighton (51.9) and just the second time all season NU had shot 50 percent or better from downtown.
Garza led Iowa with 25 points while Bohannon added 20, as the Hawkeyes dropped their fourth game in a row heading into next week’s Big Ten Tournament in Chicago.
The Huskers will be the No. 13 seed and face No. 12 Rutgers in the first game of the tournament on Wednesday, with tip-off set for 5:30 p.m. on BTN.
“I’m just so proud of these kids,” Miles said. “I mean, the circumstances didn’t dictate them. They weren’t worried about anything other than winning that ball game.”
1. Nebraska never quit
There were numerous points in this game where Nebraska could have easily given up and accepted defeat. Whether it was the 16-point deficit two minutes into the second half, or Iowa coming up with one answer after another whenever NU looked to be making a comeback. Or when Roby and senior Tanner Borchardt went to the bench and left NU with five scholarship players for the final five minutes of regulation and overtime after fouling out. Or when Bohannon scored nine of 11 points to give Iowa a seven-point lead with just 40 seconds to play. Locked in as the No. 13 seed in next week’s Big Ten Tournament, the Huskers had nothing to play for today except pride. With the way the seniors stepped up time and again down the stretch, it was clear this group refused to lose even with so many odds stacked against them.
2. This was a total team effort
Palmer and Watson are going to get the bulk of the headlines from this win, and deservedly so. But it was the all-around contribution from a roster that was as short-handed as ever that allowed Nebraska to close out the regular season with a win. Roby played 37 minutes and had a career-high 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting (4-for-4 from 3-point range) with eight rebounds and three blocks. Borchardt had eight points and eight boards, five of which coming on the offensive glass. Harris played the most clutch 23 minutes of his career, while Trueblood had by far his best night as a Husker when his team needed him the most. Thorbjarnarson only had four points, but all were timely and the second of his career-high two blocks put the win away for good. Nebraska needed all hands on deck to have a chance today, and it got just that.
3. A day Miles will never forget
The look on Miles’ face as he walked off the Pinnacle Bank Arena floor to a loud ovation from the remaining crowd said everything. Sunday meant so much to the seventh-year head coach, who very well could have just worked his final home game at Nebraska depending on what happens over the next week. The emotions he wore during his post-game press conference were obvious: joy, relief, pride, sadness, satisfaction. Those are just to name a few. What happens after NU’s run in Chicago remains to be seen, but right now the future seems inevitable for Miles. He’s well aware of it, as are his players. For the team to respond the way that it did and send Miles out on that kind of high note was, as he said himself, something that will stay with him forever.