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BASKETBALL

Red Reign: 'Locked-in' Huskers end seven-year men's basketball drought by thumping Jays

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Creighton-Nebraska

Glynn Watson and the rest of Nebraska's starters all scored in double digits Saturday.

LINCOLN — Thomas Allen walked into the postgame press conference with a smirk and a green Gatorade cup.

“We need some more chairs up in here,” the sophomore said.

James Palmer walked in with a tuxedo T-shirt over his jersey and plopped down next to Allen.

“Whooo, man oh man,” Palmer said with a grin.

An official tried to put more chairs on the stage, but they wouldn’t fit. Some players had to be relegated to the hallway for interviews.

Nebraska just had too many stars for one stage Saturday against Creighton.

“Every guy was locked in and played tremendously,” coach Tim Miles said, his hair still disheveled from the postgame celebration. “Every guy made these huge plays.”

In front of a standing room only crowd out for revenge after seven years of embarrassing losses, Nebraska exorcised its Bluejay demons in a 94-75 win. The win is Miles’ first against McDermott in 15 tries.

But though Miles is the face of the program, it was his team, his entire team, who pushed Nebraska over Creighton. Palmer led the Huskers with 30 points on 9-for-12 shooting, hitting 6 of his 7 3-point shots. Allen scored a career-high 18 points. Isaiah Roby added 15, Glynn Watson 13 and Isaac Copeland 11.

Every Husker who played more than two minutes scored, the starting five each hitting double digits for the first time this season.

“Definitely before the game and all week at practice, we’ve just been locked in and focused,” Palmer said.

Nebraska used the Bluejays’ formula against them, making 14 3-pointers and shooting 53 percent from the floor. Creighton entered the game as one of the best shooting teams in the country, and was held to just 43 percent shooting. Mitch Ballock led the Jays with 23 points, making 7 3-pointers.

“We had no answer for them defensively,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “They won the 50-50 plays today. They played like a veteran team that was desperate for a win. They were really good today.”

Pinnacle Bank Arena was packed on Saturday evening, with 15,028 anxious fans awaiting their team’s response to the loss to Minnesota on Wednesday. Students stood outside in the 20-degree cold with signs mocking Creighton for being implicated in the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. Hundreds of fans stood in standing room only spots on the concourse, and before the national anthem started, a fan cut through the quiet with a stern: “Creighton sucks!”

Before the game, Nebraska assistant coach Michael Lewis told Miles he was a little worried. The guys either look nervous, or they’re laser-focused.

Then Palmer hit his first three shots, all from 3. Students threw fake $100 bills into the air in place of the usual newspaper clippings. Nebraska zoomed out to an 18-10 lead, Allen scoring 11 points in the first 12 minutes.

“We tried to take it up a notch and come out ready,” Watson said.

Creighton’s plan, McDermott said, was to pack in the lane and not allow easy buckets at the rim. Nebraska countered that by letting it fly from deep. NU made six of its first nine 3-pointers, and midway through the second half, unleashed the best run of the season. After Allen and Copeland hit back to back 3s to make it 30-14, Roby hit a fallaway jumper and Allen made a layup. Off the bench, Nana Akenten made his first shot from 3-point range, and a few plays later, he dove at the foot of a Creighton defender to snag a loose ball. That turned into a Brady Heiman layup on the other end, giving Nebraska a 20-point lead in less than 15 minutes of play.

Creighton struggled with Nebraska’s length, but found some success on the perimeter late in the first half. After three Ballock 3-pointers, the Jays went into the break down just 13, then scored on eight of their first 12 possessions of the second half.

But the Huskers scored on nine of their first 12. They wouldn’t go away.

And in contrast to the Minnesota game, when Nebraska gave up 31 points in the final eight minutes and lost, the Huskers ramped it up when Creighton made one final run near the end of the game. After a 3-pointer from Davion Mintz made it 77-67 with 6:05 left, Nebraska responded with  an 11-3 run. Miles sent in his bench players to close out the win while McDermott told every Bluejay to look around and remember this feeling.

Nebraska danced to Waka Flocka Flame’s “Grove St. Party” at midcourt after the win. Miles, overwhelmed with emotion, sat in the locker room in silence for a few moments before addressing the team.

“It is meaningful,” he said.

One-third of the way through the season, Nebraska is 8-2, with résumé-building wins over Seton Hall, Clemson and now Creighton. After seven years, Nebraska finally punched back.

“I told them at the beginning of the year that I feel like we can beat any team we play at any time, anywhere,” Miles said. “The guys have a lot of versatility and we can do a lot of things, and today was a lot of fun. It was a good Husker victory. And I am proud of our guys.”

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Chris Heady covers Husker football and is the Nebraska men's basketball beat writer. He started at The World-Herald in 2017. Follow him on Twitter @heady_chris. Email: chris.heady@owh.com.

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