LINCOLN — The last time Tim Miles sat in that chair, he was fighting back tears, talking of failure.
He hoped and prayed it was rock bottom.
On Wednesday, Miles sat in the same spot a little taller. And his eyes were a little brighter.
“This is good, finally,” Miles said. “There’s a collective sigh of relief.”
After 30 days, seven losses and a litany of disappointment, Nebraska broke its seven-game losing streak on Wednesday night with a 62-61 win over Minnesota.
Glynn Watson, after weeks of struggling, scored 19 points. James Palmer scored a team-high 24 and made two free throws with 1.1 seconds left to lift NU over the Gophers.
Nebraska trailed by one with 30 seconds left, but Isaiah Roby baited Jordan Murphy into an offensive foul. On the next possession, Palmer pump-faked and drew a foul on Amir Coffey in the waning seconds to get himself to the line.
He canned both, moving Nebraska to 14-11 on the year, and 4-10 in conference play. Minnesota drops to 16-9 and has now lost four straight.
The postgame scene featured Nebraska dancing at center court and Minnesota coach Richard Pitino cursing at the refs as he headed for the tunnel.
“Really, really, really, really disappointed in the way that game ended,” a frustrated Pitino said postgame, scanning the press room for questions he was ready to combat. “That one stings the most of any of the games I’ve been a part of. Because we deserved to win the game.”
Asked whether he’d request another look at the officiating, Pitino sternly asked why, then suggested a reporter pay for his fine if he commented specifically on the way the game was called.
“My guys showed heart, and my guys fought, and it was unfortunate the way that ended,” Pitino said. “Absolutely unfortunate the way that ended.”
Minnesota led 31-30 at the end of the first 20 minutes. But Thomas Allen, Watson and Palmer hit back-to-back-to-back guarded 3-pointers to open up a seven-point lead to kick off the second half.
The next 15 minutes were a back-and-forth battle between Murphy, who finished with 19 points, and the rest of the Huskers.
Minnesota shot 46 percent, turned the ball over 10 times and scored 34 points in the paint. Nebraska was at 50 percent, had 11 turnovers with 30 points in the lane.
The only real difference between the two teams was the final few minutes.
A no-look pass from Roby to Watson stopped a 12-2 Minnesota run and gave NU a 53-51 lead with 6:29 left. Six points from Murphy in the next few minutes tied it up at 59.
Free throws from Palmer sealed the win.
“We were more relaxed,” Miles said. “We fought back.”
There were moments on Wednesday night it appeared a new Nebraska was emerging. One without Isaac Copeland, and one that looked functional. Nebraska transformed its offense into a motion dedicated with getting to the lane, instead of the 3-point line. The NU bench was productive. Palmer dynamic. Watson nifty. The defense, solid, holding Coffey, who scored 32 on the Huskers in December, to just 11 points.
Miles admitted that at times, he recognized that team that started 11-2.
“Our kids need to believe they can win with defense, first of all, and we know how we have to play on offense,” Miles said. “And I thought we were just better in all areas tonight.”
On his walk off the court, Miles was hugged by a regent, two boosters and fans. He pointed to the crowd, with a smile. He sighed deeply when he got to the tunnel and headed toward the locker room.
The losing streak was over. Finally.
“If you lost seven straight, and you finally won,” Palmer said with a smile, “you’d feel good, right?”
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