LINCOLN — One good half and one not-so-good Tuesday night was still enough for Nebraska men’s basketball to subdue Western Illinois 62-47.
The Huskers, in front of 10,834 fans at Pinnacle Bank Arena, shot 56 percent in the first half and raced to a 36-17 lead.
“I thought our first 24 or 25 minutes were pretty good,” NU coach Tim Miles said. “The kids came out locked in. I thought we kind of seized control.”
In the second half, even when Nebraska zoomed ahead 53-30, control was up for grabs.
Western Illinois (0-2) outscored the Huskers 30-26, outshot them 43.5 percent to 32 percent and forced six of NU’s nine turnovers.
“We got a little tired,” Miles said. “They stayed on the attack. They made a couple of 3s, they got physical with us, we started whining a little bit and didn’t play the way we can.
“It was a stark contrast the last 14 minutes of the game. If that lead is not so big, we don’t win.”
Sophomore forward Walter Pitchford was Exhibit A of Nebraska’s good half/bad half.
The 6-foot-10 transfer from Florida scored 14 points in the first half, hitting 3 of 5 3-pointers and 5 of 7 shots overall. In the second half, he went scoreless and fouled out after being whistled four times in eight minutes.
“We got a little sluggish,” Pitchford said. “It was just mental stuff. We’ll be better. This is a good learning experience.”
Pitchford hit his first 3-pointer barely a minute into the game. Then he scored eight consecutive points in 65 seconds to give Nebraska a 24-11 lead with 8:10 to go.
Miles has called Pitchford “a green-light guy” on shooting 3-pointers.
“It feels good,” Pitchford said. “But I don’t want to abuse it and keep shooting and not go to the hole. I need to show some people I can drive and be versatile.”
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Pitchford’s 14 points were a game high. Nebraska also got 13 points and nine rebounds from sophomore wing Terran Petteway, 13 points and four rebounds from sophomore forward Shavon Shields and 10 points and five rebounds from sophomore forward Leslee Smith.
Western Illinois coach Jim Molinari, a 20-year head coaching veteran, liked what he saw of Nebraska and Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“This is a beautiful place, there’s an energy in here and Tim Miles is an energized guy,” Molinari said. “There’s an energy through the whole program.
“I thought they were extremely well-prepared and took away a lot. They play excellent defense.”
Garret Covington, who had 22 points in Western Illinois’ opener, hit only 2 of 11 shots against Nebraska. He finished with five points and three turnovers. Only one Leatherneck reached double figures.
Miles repeated that he saw more good than bad from the Huskers.
“This is a young team trying to figure out how to win and how to sustain intensity and how to execute well,” he said. “This is a good lesson for us, though I’d rather have it done in practice. And it’s not one we want to accept readily.”
Fuller to redshirt
Nebraska freshman forward Nick Fuller, barring some unusual circumstance, has chosen to sit out this season as a redshirt.
“He approached me,” Miles said. “And I agreed.”
Fuller, a 6-foot-6 wing from Sun Prairie, Wis., averaged 25 points a game as a senior and was the two-time Wisconsin State Journal player of the year. As a four-year starter, he set a prep conference scoring record with 1,940 points. He will continue to suit up for home games and go through warm-ups.
Ľ Nebraska fell three points short of a fast-food giveaway. Fans good-naturedly booed when Miles told the Huskers to hold the ball in the final 26 seconds. “I just can’t please the fans when it comes to Runzas,” Miles said, smiling. “This is something we’re going to have to overcome.”
Ľ The victory was Miles’ 300th of his career, against 238 losses. He said he wasn’t aware he was close to a milestone until he spoke at a Rotary luncheon last week and heard his record announced.
Ľ The Huskers’ next game is 2 p.m. Sunday against South Carolina State (1-2), which lost to Michigan on Tuesday 93-59.