Returns to the lineup for Nebraska’s Moses Abraham and Leslee Smith helped the Huskers against Rutgers. But it was the play of its defense and Terran Petteway that powered the Huskers to their first Big Ten victory of the season on Thursday night at the Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Petteway finished with 20 points while Nebraska forced 19 Rutgers turnovers as the Huskers snapped a two-game losing streak with a 65-49 win over the Scarlet Knights. One of the poorer shooting teams in the Big Ten, Rutgers started the game making 7-of-12 from the floor, but faded for the rest of the contest to finish at 34.7% for the game. A big reason why was Nebraska’s defense, which forced nine turnovers in the first half and ten in the second while converting those turnovers into 17 points.
Miles was happy with how his team played as they snapped a two-game losing streak and gained their first win in conference play for the season.
“”It is nice not to start 0-4, but they just keep coming at you,” Miles said of the upcoming schedule. “We have Illinois, then at Wisconsin and Minnesota, who I think is a really a good team.”
“We are going to have a huge week next week. I am excited to get this team going and get better and better.”
Petteway felt like Nebraska’s offense, which struggled at key points against Indiana and Iowa to open conference play, moved and worked much better against Rutgers, largely due to the return of Abraham and Smith.
“It felt like our offense was flowing a little better tonight. Guys were stepping up, coming in and making threes,” Petteway said.
“Benny made two threes and others came in and gave us good buckets. Once that is happening, our offense started flowing way better.”
It was a balanced night offensively for Nebraska (9-6, 1-2) as Petteway added six rebounds and five assists in addition to 11 points from Shavon Shields and nine points apiece from Walter Pitchford and Benny Parker. Parker was 3-of-3 from the field with two three-pointers coming during a key 10-4 run for the Huskers to open the second half after they led 26-23 at halftime. Trailing by nine, Rutgers cut the lead to 38-33 after a jumper by Greg Lewis, but Parker converted on a lay up which was originally called a charging foul on the junior guard. The officials changed the call to a blocking foul on Junior Etou, which resulted in Rutgers head coach Eddie Jordan getting a technical foul and Nebraska reeling off the next nine points to enjoy a 47-33 lead with 11:02 remaining in the contest.
Jordan felt like his team had an early advantage, but couldn’t sustain their momentum at the end of the first half and into the second half.
“We turned the ball over which hurts your defense. They get out and get some breaks, we had charges–it took away our offensive flow,” Jordan said. “We did not get into our movement offensively. We were stagnant.”
Abraham and Smith didn’t fill up the box score, but each played 13 minutes off the bench to give Nebraska’s starters a much-needed breather. Only Shields and Petteway topped 30 minutes of game action, with Shields playing 34, Petteway 31, and Pitchford with 30. Abraham made 2-of-3 from the field to finish with five points and three rebounds and Smith added two rebounds and two assists.
For Smith, it was good just to get back into the lineup.
“There was a little bit of rust. It felt pretty good. There was a lot of excitement in the air,” Smith said of his return to game action. “I feel normal though. I feel like I never left.”
Bishop Daniels led Rutgers (9-7, 1-2) with 12 points and Kadeem Jack added 11 in the first ever Big Ten road game for the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers has struggled offensively through three conference games, scoring 47 points in a loss to Northwestern and 50 in a win over Penn State previously. The win by Nebraska gives the Huskers their best start in Big Ten play through the first three games at 1-2 after starting the previous three seasons at 0-4 or 0-5 to begin the conference portion of their season.
Next up for the Huskers is an Illini team that upset 11th-ranked Maryland on Wednesday night despite the absence of leading scorer Rayvonte Rice. Rice has a broken hand and will be out for at least two more weeks. Miles says it was important to get Abraham and Smith some minutes before Sunday’s game.
“I think just having Moses and Leslee coming in helped so much. I didn’t think they were great by any means, but at least to come in and get their feet wet before we play a pretty tough Illinois team,” Miles said.
The Huskers will practice on Friday and Saturday before hosting Illinois on Sunday night. Tip off in Lincoln set for 7:30 p.m. as Nebraska looks to even its mark in conference play. Rutgers hosts Wisconsin on Sunday night before road games at Minnesota and Maryland next week.