LINCOLN — So that’s what happens when Nebraska plays two good halves of basketball on the same night.
The Huskers, coming off a 29-point loss at No. 3 Michigan State two days earlier, dumped No. 14 Minnesota 78-68 Tuesday night, controlling the game from beginning to end and riding a 29-point, nine-rebound performance from junior point guard Glynn Watson.
“This is the all-conference Glynn, right?” NU coach Tim Miles said. “He did a great job all night. The fact that we got into the paint and were effective there was huge.”
But just as important to NU (7-3, 1-1) was rediscovering two previously elusive elements — defense and rebounding — to knock off its highest-ranked opponent in three seasons (No. 11 Michigan State).
Minnesota (8-2, 1-1) came to Pinnacle Bank Arena leading the Big Ten in scoring at 89.4 points a game and shooting 49.1 percent from the field.
Nebraska held the Gophers to season lows in points — 21 under their average — and field-goal shooting at 32.4 percent (22 of 68), drawing roars of approval from a season-high crowd of 13,847.
“We played good defense,” Watson said, “and that’s what we need to start doing.”
Interior defense was a key as Minnesota big men Jordan Murphy (21.9 points, 12.0 rebounds) and Reggie Lynch (11.9, 8.6) had led the Gophers’ charge into the top 15.
But 6-foot-9 Isaac Copeland and 6-8 Isaiah Roby took turns hounding Murphy, the 6-6 junior who entered the final eight minutes with just four points on 1 of 9 shooting and six rebounds. Murphy finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds to keep his streak of a double-double in every game alive.
Lynch had nine points and nine rebounds, and finished with two blocked shots. He leads the nation at 4.8 blocks a game.
Miles said assistant Kenya Hunter came to him Monday with some defensive wrinkles to slow Murphy and Lynch. Through worried about the changes on a short turnaround, Miles agreed. And they worked.
“You cannot let them get going inside or they will brutalize you,” Miles said. “I thought our guys did a really, really good job.”
Making opponents miss shots hasn’t always helped Nebraska this season because of rebounding woes. The Huskers are last in the Big Ten in rebounding margin.
But they held a 42-38 edge on the boards.
“I think every guy that played in the first half had a rebound,” Miles said. “Like you gang-tackle in football, we gang-rebounded. We would tip it and somebody else would clean it up.”
Watson led Nebraska in rebounding with nine. When the 6-foot point guard is the top rebounder, does that mean everyone taller has to buy him dinner?
“No,” Watson said, smiling. “Those guys boxed out and tipped the ball out and it came right to me. We talked about that in practice. They are a good rebounding team. All I did was clean up.”
Nebraska also got a bigger contribution than usual against Minnesota from centers Jordy Tshimanga and Duby Okeke. They combined for eight points, nine rebounds and four blocks.
“This was like a great win for us,” Okeke said. “We needed to build confidence and momentum. For weeks and weeks, we’ve been trying to figure out our identity and get things clicking. This win really helped us because now we can get on a roll.”
Nebraska used a 10-0 run midway through the first half to build a 22-14 lead. The margin was still eight points at halftime at 39-31.
To start the second half, NU held Minnesota to one point on the first seven possessions. Meanwhile, Watson scored seven points and Okeke got a power-slam on an assist from James Palmer for a 48-32 lead with 15:22 to go.
Nebraska’s lead stayed in double digits until the final 1:03. Minnesota never got closer than eight points.
Gophers coach Richard Pitino had high praise for Nebraska.
“They are a good team, and they will continue to get better once they get continuity with their transfers,” Pitino said. “They just played better than we did.
“Offensively, we didn’t have it going. If you don’t have it going offensively, you’ve got to get some stops and get out on the break. We did not do that.”