Huskers dump 14th-ranked Gophers
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska’s second game against a ranked opponent in just over 48 hours went much better than the first.
The Cornhuskers upset No. 14 Minnesota 78-68 on Tuesday for their first Big Ten victory of the season.
Credit a more spirited defensive effort for what the Huskers were able to accomplish just two nights after getting thumped 86-57 by No. 3 Michigan State.
“They were determined to not let that happen again,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. “As we watched film and saw how hard Michigan State played, they outplayed us, and they have tons of talent. You cannot let them (Minnesota) get going inside or they’ll brutalize you.”
It was the Huskers (7-3, 1-1 Big Ten) who applied brute force against a Gophers squad that has quickly become known as a strong defensive team. Nebraska had more than twice as many blocked shots (9-4) than the Gophers.
The Huskers also outrebounded Minnesota (8-2, 1-1) 42-38, numbers that included a 33-23 advantage on the defensive end.
“They just played better than we did,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. “When we needed to get stops, we couldn‘t. If you don’t have it going offensively, then you’ve got to get stops and get out on the break. We did not do that.”
Junior guard Glynn Watson Jr. led the Huskers with season-high totals in points (29) and rebounds (nine). Isaiah Copeland scored 12 points and James Palmer Jr. added 11 for Nebraska.
Nate Mason led the Gophers with 20 points, Amir Coffey added 17 and Jordan Murphy finished with 10.
Nebraska continued to build on its eight-point halftime lead, more than doubling that advantage to 17 points on three different occasions late in the second half before a crowd of 15,598 at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
It was the second loss in three games for the Gophers, who dropped an 86-81 home decision on Nov. 29 to Miami (Fla.) in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge before bouncing back with an 89-67 victory on Sunday over Rutgers in the Big Ten opener for both teams.
Nebraska went on an 8-0 run to turn a 14-14 tie into a 22-14 lead. The Gophers got back within one point at 24-23 before the Huskers finished the half with a 15-8 run for a 39-31 lead at the intermission.
It was a balanced offensive effort that helped the Huskers build that advantage. Copeland and Watson both had nine points, and Palmer added eight. Nebraska also had a 25-19 rebounding advantage and were 11 of 13 from the free-throw line in the opening 20 minutes.
That advantage grew to 14 in the first four minutes of the second half when Watson made a 3-pointer from the top of the key and followed with a layup 26 seconds later for a 46-32 Nebraska lead.
“We just came out and tried to play defense,” Watson said. “We don’t know when our shots are going to fall, so that’s what we came out and did.”
Watson wasn’t surprised that he led the team in rebounds because the Huskers had been looking for other ways to keep opponents from getting more than one look on each possession.
“They tipped the ball out and it came right to me,” Watson said. “We talked about that in practice, about the tip-outs, because they’re a good rebounding team. All I did was clean up,”
A dunk by senior center Duby Okeke gave the Huskers their first of four 16-point leads with an emphatic dunk, one of many big plays Nebraska’s big men were able to make against the Gophers’ formidable frontcourt.
Minnesota could not get closer than 12 points during the middle of the second half as Nebraska was able to avoid long scoring droughts that have occasionally plagued it early in the season.
The Huskers then led by 17 points four different times before the Gophers went on an 11-2 run to slice Nebraska’s advantage to 72-64. However, eight points was as close as Minnesota came.
NOTES: It took him until the final minute, but Minnesota F Jordan Murphy kept his streak of games with a double-double going at 10. A dunk with 52 seconds remaining gave the 6-foot-7 junior his ninth and 10th points. He pulled down his game-high 12th rebound in the final seconds. ... This was Nebraska’s second game in a stretch of four against current or formerly ranked teams. Nebraska travels to Omaha on Saturday to play Creighton, which fell out of the Top 25 on Monday. After a week off for finals, the Huskers will host No. 2 Kansas on Dec. 16 at Pinnacle Bank Arena.