With the eyes of the college basketball world on them Monday night, Nebraska’s seniors carried the Huskers to the kind of win that so often eluded them last season.
James Palmer scored 20 points, Isaac Copeland had 16, Glynn Watson sealed it with free throws and Tanner Borchardt provided huge minutes off the bench as Nebraska knocked off Clemson 68-66 on the road in front of 6,974 at Littlejohn Coliseum and a national audience on ESPN2.
This isn’t the same Clemson team that went to the Sweet 16 last season, but the Tigers (5-2) returned three starters from that squad and were ranked 16th in the nation last week before losing to Creighton.
“This will be a quality win in March. We know that,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said on his postgame radio show. “They can’t take it from us.”
On the same day the NCAA released the first rankings from its NET system that will help decide what schools make the NCAA Tournament come March, Nebraska (6-1) got out of Clemson with a road win against a power conference opponent that the metric will find very valuable down the road.
Palmer added a career-high nine rebounds to go with his 20 points. He scored 14 in the second half, including going 2-of-3 from three point range. Palmer’s first make from beyond the arc Monday broke a string of 11 straight misses by the guard going back to the Texas Tech game last Tuesday.
“Honestly I think last Tuesday was on me. I got in foul trouble early so I couldn’t help my team and I couldn’t provide for my team to help us win,” Palmer said of the loss to the Red Raiders. “So I wanted to come out here focused on the defensive end and take care of business on the other side, as well.”
Copeland provided one of the game’s signature plays, coming from behind to block Shelton Mitchell’s layup attempt late in the second half. Thomas Allen gathered the rebound and tossed the ball ahead to Palmer, whose two-handed reverse jam gave NU a 66-59 lead with 1:29 left.
Then all heck broke loose.
Clemson scored five points in the next 19 seconds to get back within two, and after Palmer missed a three, the Tigers had the ball and a chance to tie or win the game with the shot clock off.
But Marcquise Reed, who came into the game averaging 19.5 points per contest and finished with 15 Monday, was whistled for traveling on a drive to the basket.
Nebraska then was able to get the ball into Watson’s hands, and the senior knocked down two free throws with seven seconds left to give NU some breathing room.
Watson had 12 points and four rebounds for the Huskers.
It was Borchardt who was the unsung hero. The former walk-on played 16 minutes as junior Isaiah Roby once again battled foul trouble, and in one second-half sequence, the Gothenburg native scored a layup, grabbed two offensive rebounds and hit a free throw.
“We just made enough plays,” Miles said. “It was every kid doing something helpful.”
Nebraska shot 54 percent in the second half, including 4-of-8 from three point range, and had seven of its 10 assists in the final 20 minutes.
The Huskers actually led for the game’s final 18 minutes, but never by more than eight.
Most importantly, they led at the end.