Coming into Nebraska’s game against Tennessee-Martin, Nebraska’s Walter Pitchford had been struggling with his shot this season, making just one of his 16 three-point attempts. Thankfully for Nebraska, it was a much different story for the junior forward on Friday night.
“Some nights they go in, some nights they don’t,” Pitchford said. “Putting a little extra time in at the gym and just making sure to concentrate more for the little things here and there just tweaking the little things. That’s about it though.”
Pitchford hit 6-of-10 from three-point territory and finished with a career-high 19 points as the Huskers held off a feisty Tennessee-Martin team 75-64 at the Pinnacle Bank Arena. Terran Petteway added 18 points and a career-high eight assists for Nebraska, who moved to 4-1 with the win. It was a three-point bonanza for both teams, as the Huskers made 10-of-23 from distance, while the Skyhawks connected on 11-of-27.
“He’s really worked hard to get his rhythm shooting. I know Kenya Hunter worked with him, I worked with him, and Kenya saw that he was dropping the ball a little bit and got him to tighten up his release and his shooting pocket,” head coach Tim Miles said. “We ran some stuff for him early too. I thought that was critical and we got him going.”
It was a back and forth game through most of the first half until Nebraska closed the half on a 17-3 run over the final 6:36 in the opening 20 minutes to take a 40-27 lead into halftime. The Huskers sizzled at times in the first half and made their first six field goal attempts to jump out to a 17-10 lead, but the Skyhawks came back and took a 24-23 lead before Nebraska went on their run to close the half.
The Nebraska lead grew to 52-33 after two free throws by Benny Parker with 14:26 remaining in the game, but Tennessee-Martin, from the Ohio Valley Conference, whittled the lead to 54-44 with an 11-2 run over the next four minutes after Alex Anderson’s three-pointer forced the Huskers to call a 30-second timeout. The Skyhawks weren’t done however, as Deville Smith’s three-pointer made it a 54-50 Nebraska lead before the Huskers answered with six straight points to keep Tennessee-Martin at arm’s length for the rest of the contest.
“I thought both teams looked a little tired. When you look at it, we got the lead then they just started draining the threes,” Miles said. “I really liked what we were doing for a long time on offense. We just still turn it over a little too much.”
Besides the contributions of Pitchford and Petteway, the Huskers got balanced efforts from the six other players who saw the floor. Shavon Shields, who scored a career-high 35 points in Nebraska’s 80-67 win over Omaha on Tuesday night, struggled to finish with just five points on 2-of-9 shooting from the field. But despite the off night from Shields, the rest of the team picked him up. David Rivers finished with six point and six rebounds, Benny Parker added nine points, Tai Webster pitched in seven points, Tarin Smith had four points, and Moses Abraham played perhaps his best game as a Husker with seven points and five rebounds in 19 minutes of action.
Miles says Abraham continues to adjust to playing in games with his new teammates at Nebraska after spending four seasons at Georgetown.
“He’s doing better and better. You can see his numbers have increased. When he comes in, it’s a significant difference with our defense,” Miles said.
Nebraska got assists on 13 of their 26 made baskets. The eight assists by Petteway are the most by a Nebraska player since Bo Spencer had nine assists in the 2011-12 season in a win over Central Michigan. The Huskers won the rebounding battle 34-25 and limited the Skyhawks to just five offensive rebounds, a big point of emphasis for Miles this early in the season.
Tennessee-Martin dropped to 3-2 with the loss despite 18 points from forward Twymond Howard and 15 from Deville Smith, with all of those points coming on made three-pointers. The Skyhawks only other loss was a 79-63 setback at Marquette in their season opener.
“They are disciplined, very talented, a lot of offensive weapons and they really space the floor well,” Skyhawks head coach Heath Schroyer said of Nebraska. “Obviously when Pitchford is hitting threes, they are impossible to guard.”
Nebraska, now at 4-1, has a big week coming up, with a trip to Tallahassee to take on Florida State as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Monday night at 6 p.m. Following the game with the Seminoles, the Huskers renew their instate rivalry with the Creighton Bluejays on Sunday night at the Pinnacle Bank Arena, with tip-off set for 6 p.m.