Playing angry wasn’t enough to keep Nebraska’s season alive.
After getting a tough draw in Sunday’s NIT selection show, the Huskers (22-11) fell short to Mississippi State (23-10) in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament, falling 66-59 at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville, MS.
Nebraska, disappointed with its 5-seed, ended its 2017-18 season with an equally disappointing performance. The Huskers shot only 35.4 percent from the field through the whole game, including 6-off-22 from beyond the arc. Nebraska missed all seven of its three-point attempts in the fourth quarter.
“I think any time you have a team that thinks they’re going to the NCAA (Tournament) and then doesn’t make it, and then you get this seed in the NIT, initially ..you’ve got to get your rhythm and your bearings,” Nebraska assistant coach Jim Molinari told the Husker Sports Network in a post game interview.
“I think we really started slow, not as focused. But on the other side, those guys showed a lot of character and came out and fought. (The Bulldogs) are 19-2 here at home, and we knew they were going to be formidable.”
Mississippi State got off to a 19-12 start in the first quarter, as the Bulldogs scored 16 of their first 19 points in the paint and shot 56.3 percent from the floor to start the game.
The Huskers started the second quarter on a 7-0 run to tie the game back up, but the Bulldogs ended the first half on a 6-0 run to lead 33-28 at the break.
One big difference in the game was rebounding. The Bulldogs dominated that category 47-30 and got to the free throw line 18 times, making 12 of those shots.
Nebraska got to the charity stripe only nine times, making seven of those attempts.
“They hurt us is pick-and-roll for a while, and then what happened was we couldn’t get to the free-throw line down the stretch,” Molinari said. “They got to the free-throw line down the stretch. They were 12-for-18 vs. our 7-for-9. I think that was a big difference.”
A pair of late free throws by junior James Palmer, Jr. gave Nebraska a 51-50 lead with 7:41 to play, but the Huskers would then go on a three-minute scoring drought which allowed Mississippi State to get back in front 58-53 with a little more than two minutes to play.
Palmer finished with a team-high 13 points on a tough 5-of-15 shooting night. Junior Isaac Copeland dropped in 12 points, while sophomore Isaiah Roby finished with 10 points and eight rebounds.
It was a disappointing end to a historic and overall hopeful season for Nebraska Basketball, and despite the dud at the end, Molinari looks to the future with optimism and looks back on this year with pride.
“I just couldn’t be more proud of those seniors who are leaving and the guys who are coming back,” Molinari said. “Every game down the stretch, when you win eight of your last nine and you basically have to win every game, was a monumental pressure and stress. Coach (Tim Miles) kept us together, and those guys came to fight every game. I told them, you might not be rewarded in the short run, but the character you showed and what you developed, you’re going to be rewarded in the long run.”
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