Tonight marked the beginning of the 16th Big Ten / ACC Challenge, with the Big Ten still pretty far behind in the overall series, trailing 3-10-2. Of course they haven't lost in the Challenge since 2008 (ACC won the first ten years) and they put themselves in pretty good position heading into the second day with a pair of wins. Interestingly enough, both of the Big Ten teams that added wins tonight are recent additions to the conference, with Nebraska joining a few years back and this being Rutgers first year in the challenge.
Game of the Night: Rutgers at Clemson
Clemson seemingly started to turn a corner last season, winning 23 games and making a solid run through the NIT. They didn't participate in the Challenge last year, but they did edge Illinois 50-49 last March. With their first 20+ win season since 2011, Clemson was looking to turn a corner this season but stumbled out of the gate with early losses to Winthrop and Gardner-Webb. Well if you're a Tigers fan you can add another bad loss to the resume, dropping a home game to Big Ten bottom dweller Rutgers in a deflating 69-64 defeat.
Speaking of Rutgers, tonight's game was considerably better than their most recent outing, a loss to ACC opponent Virginia with the Scarlet Knights being held to 26 points. Apparently they thought they were a late 90s Northwestern team (oh where art thou, Kevin O'Neil?). For a team that scored 26 points in 40 minutes, the Knights managed to muster up 33 points in the first half alone and fought neck and neck with Clemson before pulling out a five point victory. Forward Junior Etou led the way with 20 points and every starter besides Mike Williams reached double figures in the scoring column. Even more notable was Rutgers committing only thee turnovers and ten fouls on the night, putting themselves in position for the upset.
Clemson managed to open up a seven point lead with 7:41 remaining after a Jaron Blossomgame (what a name) jumper, but would then go over seven minutes making only one field goal while Rutgers went on a 16-2 run to seal the deal.
Nebraska at Florida State
Nebraska has only lost once in the challenge and added a nice win here to try to make up for an early season loss to Rhode Island. Of course Florida State has only been so-so in the last two years under Leonard Hamilton, but beating a power five team on the road is always a nice get.
The Cornhuskers came out firing on all cylinders, taking a 37-21 lead into the break. Led by Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields, who scored a combined 46 points, Nebraska seemingly was on cruise control early on. Of course that's what happens when your opponent is 2 of 18 from beyond the arc, shoots 59.4% on 32 free throws and commits 17 turnovers, but the defensive effort by Nebraska was solid tonight.
Florida State would eventually trim the deficit to a single point on a pair of Aaron Thomas free throws, but would then go on to give up seven points on the next three possessions and see the lead balloon back up to 69-61 with less than a minute remaining. A few weirdly committed fouls by Nebraska extended the game a bit, but Nebraska would hold off the rally and take the game in Tallahassee by a score of 70-65.
After tonight the Big Ten is 2-0 in the Challenge with 12 games remaining. So far so good for the conference.