It took a while, but Tim Miles has finally surpassed another conference milestone.
On Saturday, the Nebraska men’s basketball team (11-10 overall, 2-6 Big Ten) captured its first Big Ten Conference victory at home, defeating Northwestern (12-9, 3-5) 64-49 in front of a crowd of 8,874 at the Bob Devaney Sports Center.
Senior guard Dylan Talley led the Huskers with 20 points and eight rebounds, assisting Nebraska to its first win at home since Dec. 29.
“We really need this one,” Miles said. “The fact that Northwestern went to Illinois and won, and then they beat Minnesota – that’s a quality win for us. I think it shows our guys that if we do it right and we hang in there, we can do this.”
After defeating two out of its last three ranked opponents – No. 23 Fighting Illini and No. 12 Minnesota – the Wildcats were coming into Lincoln feeling confident, according to Northwestern coach Bill Carmody.
However, his team’s confidence didn’t carry over in its game against Nebraska.
Although the Huskers began by making just one field goal in the first seven minutes of the game, the shooting blunders quickly faded when an 8-0 run assisted them to a 15-11 lead midway through the first half. A couple of points and missed rebounds later helped Northwestern decrease the lead to one.
The 15-14 score forced Miles to call a timeout and led to a furious presentation on the sidelines by the coach.
Miles was less than thrilled with his team’s inability to coral Northwestern’s missed shots off the board. During the timeout, Miles’ tough love to his players could clearly be heard from any seat in the Devaney Center.
However, Dylan Talley said his coach’s furious display of emotions ignited his team to play better.
“We need it to get us going,” the senior said. “When he does that, it gets the team going. and we seemed to respond well to it.”
The coach’s barking seemed to provide a spark to his five players on the court, especially Talley. The guard went on to make a pair of 3-pointers in a row to put his team up 23-17.
Talley’s team-high 10 points and three rebounds anchored Nebraska to a 24-22 lead at halftime.
The Huskers continued their up-tempo energy in the second half when a 3-point play by freshman guard Shavon Shields led the home team to a 35-28 lead.
A pair of successful shots made from downtown by senior Ray Gallegos stretched the lead to 44-33.
After coming up with zero points in the first half, Miles said he was proud to see the Salt Lake City native climb out of his slump.
“No one’s harder on themselves than Ray,” the coach said. “There’s a young guy that’s working for it and I was so happy to see that success in the second half.”
Gallegos would go on to add another 3-pointer to finish the night with 11 points.
The energy and physicality from Nebraska was on a steady wave throughout the second half as Talley and senior forward Brandon Ubel would tack on 10 more points each to give the Huskers their largest lead, 56-40, with six minutes to play.
Ubel recorded his fourth double-double of the season, collecting 12 rebounds and finishing second among Husker shooters with 14 points.
The upperclassmen’s leadership assisted Nebraska to a 54.2 percent shooting in the second half and a 45.1 percent showing to end the game.
However, the game wasn’t always filled with euphoria. In the final two minutes, the Huskers would go on to miss four out of 12 free throws, to drop their percentage at the foul line to 52.2 percent on the night (12-for-23).
“We should have had about 50 of those free throws,” Miles said with a laugh. “They didn’t go our way.”
But those flaws were minuscule to the bigger picture.
The win against Northwestern marks the first time Nebraska had picked up a conference victory at home since its matchup against Illinois last season (Feb. 18). And even more significant, the home conference win marks the first under the Miles era.
The coach said he was delighted that his players were able to send the “Sea of Red” home with a smile on their faces for the first time in nearly a month.
“I thought Dylan did a really nice job on both ends tonight,” Miles said. “I just felt like we were losing our focus a little bit and Dylan was in the middle of getting the guys organized and did great the whole night. It was nice to see the Devaney fans leave with a smile on their face.”