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Nebraska advances to second round of Big Ten tourney with win over Rutgers

Huskers hit stride with late surge

Isaiah Roby – Nebraska junior
Isaiah Roby – Nebraska junior

CHICAGO – Nebraska coach Tim Miles was grinning ear to ear and waving to the fans as he jogged into the tunnel when his night took a comical turn.

He tripped and rolled over. He gave the safe sign as he got up and continued on his way.

The Cornhuskers were safe, too, for at least another day.

James Palmer Jr. tied a career high with 34 points, and Nebraska beat Rutgers 68-61 in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament on Wednesday.

Palmer matched a personal best set against Ohio State last season, and scored 27 of those points in the second half to carry Nebraska. But the most memorable moment involved Miles. And the coach had some fun at his own expense.

“I’m fine,” he said. “The wires, they jumped up and got me. I thought I was a better athlete than that. I’m old. I’m old. ... A lot of exhilaration, but just enough clumsiness to keep things interesting.”

Miles also tweeted: “A lesser athlete would’ve got hurt! #mustbeWednesday.”

The Cornhuskers (17-15) went on a 15-0 run to grab a 10-point lead in the closing minutes on the way to their second straight win after dropping 11 of 13. They are banking on a few victories in the conference tournament to vault them into the NCAA picture, and maybe save Miles’ job.

“I just told the guys, you know, this is a big-boy business, and whatever will be will be,” Miles said about the speculation surrounding his future. “I want to be the coach of Nebraska. I love Nebraska. The decision is out of my hands. So we just control what we can control.

“I told the guys, you can control if you’re in stance. If you’re ready. How hard you’re playing. I can control how well I coach and how well I prepare. We just go about our game plan.”

Glynn Watson Jr. had 11 points, five assists and two steals, and Isaiah Roby finished with 10 points, six rebounds and four blocked shots for Nebraska.

Eugene Omoruyi led Rutgers (14-17) with 16 points. Myles Johnson added 11 points and 11 rebounds, but the Scarlet Knights were one and done this time after winning at least one game in the previous two conference tournaments. Still, they won seven league games – their highest total since the 2005-06 team won seven in Big East play.

“A lot of good things were accomplished [this season],” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “I’m proud of our guys, and our young guys grew up a lot.”

Nebraska used the decisive surge to turn a five-point deficit into a 61-51 lead with 1:30 remaining.

Roby started it with a layup with 6:21 remaining, and hit two free throws with 4 minutes left to put Nebraska back on top for the first time since the opening minutes of the half at 52-51.

Palmer then nailed a 3, and Roby drove for a neat scoop layup after one of four steals by Johnny Trueblood. Palmer then threw down a hard fast-break dunk, getting intentionally fouled from behind by Omoruyi, and Watson made two free throws to finish the run.

“We keep riding,” Trueblood said. “We keep sticking to the game plan. Like that last run we had, we always say within the 8- to 3-minute mark, that’s when you win the game. So we really went on that run and that helped the team.”

Hit hard by injuries all season, the Cornhuskers had to get by without Amir Harris (knee) as well as the suspended Nana Akenten. They used just seven players in this game, and shot just 40.4 percent overall while making 3 of 15 3-pointers.

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