Two of the league’s newest teams found themselves in a good ole fashion Big Ten battle on Wednesday night, with Nebraska picking up the road victory, 60-54, over Rutgers.
It was a close, back-and-forth game throughout the first half with neither team ever holding a two-possession lead in the opening frame. Nebraska held the tight 27-25 lead at the break, and the Cornhuskers led throughout most of the second half as well. However, it wasn’t until the final minute where Nebraska sealed the victory with some free throws.
Nebraska was led offensively by Isaac Copeland and James Palmer Jr. Copeland led the Cornhuskers with 23 points, while Palmer scored 18 points, and also registered six rebounds, four assists and two blocks. Three different Scarlet Knights finished with double figures in points, with Corey Sanders dropping a team-high 14 points.
With the victory Nebraska improves to 15-8 on the season and 6-4 in conference play, while Rutgers drops to 12-10 and 2-7 in the Big Ten. With this being a big victory for the Cornhuskers and another tough loss for the Scarlet Knights, let’s take a look at some takeaways from tonight’s matchup.
What We Learned:
1) Nebraska earns nice road win
Beating Rutgers won’t be Nebraska’s crowning achievement this year but it will help further the Cornhuskers odds of making the NCAA Tournament. Why you ask? Because winning on the road is impressive, regardless of the opponent.
Nebraska picked up a much-needed road victory on Wednesday. It doesn’t matter who the opponent is because any wins on the road look good on a NCAA Tournament resume. The win over Rutgers was only the Cornhuskers’ second road victory of the season, pairing up with an impressive win at Northwestern earlier this month.
The Cornhuskers only have three more road games on their schedule this year — Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois. So with a limited amount of opportunities to pick up wins away from home, this was a game Nebraska had to cash in. Yeah, it is just Rutgers, but winning these types of games will go a long way in whether or not Nebraska is dancing in March.
2) Another poor offensive performance costs Rutgers
When it comes to putting the ball in the hoop, Rutgers simply isn’t very good. It’s really that simple as that with the Scarlet Knights.
Poor offensive production was again the story for Rutgers on Wednesday, and it ultimately costed the Scarlet Knights against Nebraska. Rutgers was held to only 54 points with horrible shooting being the main reason. The Scarlet Knights shot 33.8 percent from the field and an even worse 16.7 percent from behind the arc. Rutgers also had 14 turnovers in this matchup.
By this point in the year, we already knew Rutgers was offensively challenged. This was the sixth time in the last eight games they failed to reach at least 65 points so tonight wasn’t an outlier by any means. I was optimistic about Rutgers possibly turning the corner offensively after they scored 80 points against Iowa last week, but I guess that was just a random offensive frenzy for the Scarlet Knights.
3) Palmer is an elite player in Big Ten right now
Ohio State’s Keita Bates-Diop has gotten a ton of attention this year — and he deserves it — but there’s a Cornhusker who has arguably been just as good this season, and especially lately.
Despite struggling a bit down the stretch, Palmer reached double-digits in points again tonight — which he’s done in all but two games this year — to continue his recent hot streak. Palmer reached at least 18 points for the seventh time in the last eight games on Wednesday night. Even more recently, Palmer is averaging 23.8 points across Nebraska’s last four games, which is even better than Bates-Diop, who is averaging 16.8 points in Ohio State’s last four games.
I’m not necessarily arguing that Palmer is the better player or at this point should beat out Bates-Diop for Big Ten Player of the Year. However, it is fair to say Palmer has played his way into that conversation as of late, and if he continues to help his Cornhuskers play themselves into the NCAA Tournament picture then he might just earn himself some Big Ten honors.
Nebraska had to make some plays down the stretch to hold on to this win, and while it wasn’t pretty, it was a much-needed victory. It was another road victory for the Cornhuskers and when the NCAA Tournament committee is evaluating bubble teams this game will be just another feather in Nebraska’s cap. Forget that it was an ugly game — it’s a win and that’s all that really matters.
For Rutgers, it was another solid effort, but yet again they were not able to make enough plays to earn the conference victory. The Scarlet Knights play tough defense — especially at home — so it seems like they are always in the game until late in the second half. However, finding ways to close out these games with wins is what they haven’t figured out right now. If Rutgers ever does find a way to do that, then they could become a dangerous squad.