James Palmer’s last-second 3-pointer gives Huskers win over Illinois
LINCOLN — If Nebraska’s goal in Big Ten men’s basketball is to survive and advance, the Huskers did the bare minimum Monday night against the last winless team in the league.
Guard James Palmer hit a leaning 3-pointer from the wing with 0.3 seconds left to give the Huskers a 64-63 victory over Illinois in front of 12,597 fans at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Had Palmer ever hit a game-winning shot before?
“Of course,’’ the 6-foot-6 junior said. “If you play basketball, you’re going to get a couple of game-winners. But this probably was the biggest one.’’
Palmer, who led all scorers with 24 points on 10 of 19 shooting, had to sweat out a review as to whether his foot was on the 3-point line. It wasn’t, as a replay on the big screen proved.
“I was just trying to get back on defense so they don’t hit a shot,’’ he said. “I heard the fans going crazy, so I knew it was a 3 after that.’’
The winning shot capped a night of redemption for Palmer.
NU’s leading scorer at 15.2 points a game was coming off his worst outing — five points on 1 of 9 shooting in a 76-74 loss at Penn State. He was benched the final 10 minutes of regulation and all of overtime.
“I definitely had to come out and play well this game,’’ Palmer said. “I couldn’t have two bad games in a row. At Penn State, it was really on me because I didn’t show up in a road game.
“We really took the loss hard, so we had to come out and play hard and try to help the team as much as possible.’’
Palmer also had some in-game redemption to do for Nebraska (13-7, 4-3).
With Illinois having cut an eight-point deficit to two at 59-57 inside two minutes, Palmer came off the dribble but bobbled the ball out of bounds with 1:22 to play.
But on the ensuing possession for the Illini (10-9, 0-6), Palmer swiped the ball near midcourt and raced in for a dunk and a 61-57 lead with 59 seconds left.
Illinois countered with a basket from center Michael Finke with 32 seconds left. The Illini fouled Palmer with 23 seconds left, and he missed the front end of a one-and-one.
Finke, who had 16 points and 10 rebounds, struck again with 8.1 seconds left. He swished a 3-pointer and drew a foul from forward Isaiah Roby. Finke completed the four-point play for a 63-61 lead.
Nebraska called time and had to go the length of the court. The ball was in-bounded to point guard Glynn Watson, who struggled to get to halfcourt.
“I got scared because ‘G’ kind of got caught up,’’ NU guard Evan Taylor said. “Then he threw it to James and I saw James take the dribble. When it went in, I just froze. I was like, ‘Wow, we won!’ I was really happy. This was a big game for us.’’
Nebraska coach Tim Miles said Watson made a strong play under pressure to get the ball to Palmer.
“James is the kind of guy who practices that shot every day,’’ Miles said. “So we’ll take it. We’ve been on the other end of two of them. It was good to get one.’’
Taylor didn’t start for the first time this season — Anton Gill did — but he produced a starter’s line: 13 points, five rebounds, two steals, two assists and no turnovers.
Roby also drew his first start at center. He had nine points, 10 rebounds, four steals and two blocks. The rebounds he got were valued as Illinois had a 46-29 advantage on the boards and a 14-4 edge in second-chance points.
The game, Roby said, was “hectic, kind of chaotic.’’
Case in point: with about five minutes left, Roby missed a wide-open dunk, then bobbled a pass while open in the lane on the next possession. But he turned right around and grabbed a Palmer airball and converted it into a basket.
“That’s how they like to play, so we kind of played into their hands,’’ Roby said. “But it’s a win. That’s the ultimate thing.’’
Roby sparked a 14-0 Nebraska run in the second half that turned a 40-34 deficit into a 48-40 lead. He started it with a layup. Palmer hit a jumper. Then Roby deflected an Illinois pass, dove for the ball near midcourt and saved it into play for Taylor to break away for a dunk, bringing one of the biggest cheers of the night.
Despite some of the ugly statistics — the minus-17 on rebounds and going 5 of 23 on 3-pointers (21.7 percent) — Nebraska went home smiling.
Said Miles: “I’d rather be lucky than good.”