CHICAGO (AP) — Nebraska coach Tim Miles was grinning ear to ear and waving to the fans as he jogged into the tunnel when his night took a comical turn.
He tripped and rolled over. He gave the safe sign as he got up and continued on his way.
The Cornhuskers were safe, too, for at least another day.
James Palmer Jr. tied a career high with 34 points, and Nebraska beat Rutgers 68-61 in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament on Wednesday.
Palmer matched a personal best set against Ohio State last season and scored 27 in the second half to carry Nebraska. But the most memorable moment involved Miles. And the coach had some fun at his own expense.
“I’m fine,” he said. “The wires, they jumped up and got me. I thought I was a better athlete than that. I’m old. I’m old. … A lot of exhilaration but just enough clumsiness to keep things interesting.”
Miles also tweeted : “A lesser athlete would’ve got hurt! #mustbeWednesday.”
The Cornhuskers (17-15) went on a 15-0 run to grab a 10-point lead in the closing minutes on the way to their second straight win after dropping 11 of 13. They are banking on a few victories in the conference tournament to vault them into the NCAA picture and maybe save Miles’ job.
Eugene Omoruyi led Rutgers (14-17) with 16 points. Myles Johnson added 11 points and 11 rebounds, but the Scarlet Knights were one and done this time after winning at least one game in the previous two conference tournaments.
“A lot of good things were accomplished (this season),” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “I’m proud of our guys and our young guys grew up a lot.”
Nebraska used the decisive surge to turn a five-point deficit into a 61-51 lead with 1:30 remaining.
Isaiah Roby started it with a layup with 6:21 remaining and hit two free throws with four minutes left to put Nebraska back on top for the first time since the opening minutes of the half at 52-51.
Palmer then nailed a 3 and Roby drove for a neat scoop layup after a steal by Johnny Trueblood. Palmer then threw down a hard fast-break dunk , getting intentionally fouled from behind by Omoruyi, and Glynn Watson Jr. made two free throws to finish the run.
“We keep riding,” Trueblood said. “We keep sticking to the game plan. Like that last run we had, we always say within the eight- to three-minute mark, that’s when you win the game. So we really went on that run and that helped the team.”
“I just told the guys, you know, this is a big-boy business, and whatever will be will be. I want to be the coach of Nebraska. I love Nebraska. The decision is out of my hands. So we just control what we can control. I told the guys, you can control if you’re in stance. If you’re ready. How hard you’re playing. I can control how well I coach and how well I prepare. We just go about our game plan.” — Miles on the speculation surrounding his future.
Nebraska: Hit hard by injuries all season, the Cornhuskers had to get by without Amir Harris (knee) as well as the suspended Nana Akenten. They used just seven players in this game. No one other than Palmer scored more than 11 points. And Nebraska shot just 40.4 percent overall while making 3 of 15 3-pointers.
Rutgers: Though they came up short in this one, the Scarlet Knights showed some promise this season. They won seven league games — their highest total since the 2005-06 team won seven in Big East play.
Nebraska: The Cornhuskers were swept by Maryland — 74-72 on the road on Jan. 2 and 60-45 at home on Feb. 6.
Rutgers: Season is likely over.