By Ken Cross
The Nebraska Cornhuskers continued their rise in the Big Ten and nationally on Tuesday night as they defeated Maryland, 70-66, at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln behind an exhilarating 24-point second half from Miami transfer James Palmer, who made 10-of-19 shots to tallying 26 points in 35 minutes.
“Definitely if I’m playing in big games like this, everybody likes playing in big games with a big crowd, and the crowd did a great job tonight helping us get a win,” said Palmer, “I think we came out in the second half and proved that we can play anybody and come out with the win.”
Palmer had his own 13-point run in the second half that helped the Cornhuskers to get the lead and in control after trailing 32-30 at halftime. His three-pointer and layup off a pass from Isaiah Roby ended that run and gave Nebraska it’s biggest lead at 63-56 with 5:42 to play.
“It was really uplifting,” said Nebraska coach Tim Miles, “It allowed us to stretch out and get a bit of a lead. But I really think our defense and ability to keep them off the three-point line and still rebound with them was just as important. It’s just not as pretty.”
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Nebraska had a slow start in the the first half as they had trouble finding the rhythm and continuity needed to sustain they free-flowing offense. Miles attributed that to nothing more than nerves. He though both teams were edgy as he noted Maryland was also fighting for position and trying to start a much-needed win streak as well.
“I think that gravity certainly sunk in, the gravity of that moment,” Miles remembered, “I told the guys after the game, ‘This is a special circumstance, but enjoy it. This is what you work for, so let’s relax. Let’s just stay in the moment, play great and don’t worry about, ‘oh it’s a big game.'”
As Palmer’s output allowed the Cornhuskers to relax and play, they showed a certain mental toughness down the stretch that allowed them to get stops and then step up to the free throw line. Palmer, Roby, and Glynn Watson, Jr. each made a pair of free throws in the clutch to ice the win.
“To make them down the stretch I thought was really important,” said Miles, “I think it was Glynn, Isaiah and James all made really critical shots, so that’s how you win close games too. You have to make your layups, make your free throws.”
The 20th win was monumental as it was the first since the 1992-93 season and it marked just the sixth 20-win season in the history of Nebraska basketball.
The ‘Huskers have put a six-game winning streak together and have only three games remaining before the Big Ten Tournament at Madison Square Garden, which opens on March 2. They have risen to fourth in the league even though they still seem to be obscure in the Big Ten as most of the media attention centers on Michigan State, Purdue, and Ohio State and the great years these teams are having.