Palmer’s 20 lead Nebraska to 68-66 win at Clemson
The Cornhuskers had watched Clemson cut an eight-point lead down to 66-64 in the final seconds and made sure his teammates knew it was time toughen up. “We’re winning this game. We’re winning this game,” Copeland, a senior, shouted in the huddle.
“Chill out, bro, chill out,” James Palmer told his teammate, according to Nebraska coach Tim Miles.
“Hey guys, it’s OK,” Miles told them. “We’re all on the same team. We’re all in the same direction.”
A winning one for the Cornhuskers, who closed out the Tigers for a 68-66 win to start the ACC/Big Ten Challenge — and gained a critical check mark when the NCAA Tournament committee looks to fill the field next March.
Palmer scored 14 of his 20 points in the second half and Copeland added 16 points for Nebraska (6-1), which earlier had dropped a game Texas Tech it came in expecting to win.
“We had been tested before with Texas Tech and we gave up early, and that’s why we lost by so much,” Copeland said of the 70-52 loss last week. “We knew going into this game we had to be strong, stay together.”
That’s just what they did when, ahead by two, they forced a turnover from Clemson’s Marcquise Reed with 9.4 seconds left. Glynn Watson Jr. followed with two foul shots seconds later to seal the win.
“It’s our first real road test of the year, so passing it was really important,” Miles said.
Nebraska thought it had a strong NCAA case after winning 22 games and going 13-5 in Big Ten play. But the Cornhuskers were left out, then got beat in the NIT opening round. A win like this, Copeland said, will help change that.
“We’re headed to high places,” he said.
Nebraska took control midway through the second half as Palmer had two straight baskets and Copeland followed with a power jam. When Thomas Allen struck with a 3-poiner from the right corner, the Cornhuskers were ahead 64-56.
Clemson, despite its late surge, could not catch up and lost its second straight game after starting 5-0.
It was also a strong start for the Big Ten, which has lost the past two challenges to the ACC — last year by an 11-3 margin. The conferences play 14 games in all, the majority on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The win improved Nebraska to 5-3 in challenge games since joining the Big Ten in 2011-12. The Cornhuskers picked up their third road win in challenge play after victories at Wake Forest (2012) and Florida State (2015).
It was also a bit of revenge for a tight loss at Clemson in the 2016-17 challenge when it was the Tigers pulling out a 60-58 win.
Elijah Thomas led Clemson with 16 points. Reed, who scored 24 and 27 points the past two games, was 6-of-14 shooting for 15 points.
Shelton Mitchell said it was frustrating to follow its 87-82 loss to Creighton in the Cayman Islands Classic final by dropping a home game. “But this is the time we need to stick together,” he said. “We lost two games, but it’s a long season.”
Nebraska: The Cornhuskers looked fast, strong and talented and they’ll have a chance to show that in Big Ten play starting this week against Illinois as the league begins its 20-game regular season.
Clemson: The Tigers dropped out of this week’s Top 25 after losing the final of the Cayman Island Classic to Creighton 87-82 last week. They still looked like they were on island time as they played a step slow as Nebraska had 10 offensive rebounds and five steals.
Isaac Copeland Jr. made a mark all over the place for Nebraska. He had six rebounds, three of them on the offensive glass. He made all four of his foul shots, had three of his team’s 10 assists to with a block and a steal.
Nebraska coach Tim Miles recalled how his team had several chances to win here in 2016 before losing 60-58 as Clemson controlled much of the second half. This time, Miles said it was the Cornhuskers who dictated things in their victory. “You have to play from the lead on the road,” he said. “It’s really important.”
The Cornhuskers never gave up the lead after Copeland’s basket put them ahead 39-37 with 16:03 to go.
Nebraska opens Big Ten Conference play against Illinois on Sunday.
Clemson faces St. Peter’s on Dec. 4.