No. 24 Maryland and injury-riddled Nebraska are back to square one as the Big Ten Conference Tournament continues Thursday in Chicago, Ill., with an early afternoon second round matchup following the first game at 12:30 p.m. (ET).
The fifth-seeded Terrapins (22-9) hope to recapture some momentum lost down the stretch as they fell in three of the final six games to fall out of fourth place and the tournament's double-bye. Coach Mark Turgeon was trying to sell the extra game as a positive heading into Maryland's fifth Big Ten Tournament.
"I think the more tournament experience we get, hopefully try to get that first win, which won't be easy," said Turgeon. "You know, this league is tremendous and there are no easy wins out there. But we get on the floor a little bit earlier, get a little more experience. We played on Friday and waiting all the way to next Friday might have been tough."
Nebraska (17-15) didn't have to wait. The 13th-seeded Cornhuskers opened the tournament with a 68-61 win over Rutgers on Wednesday night at the United Center. Senior guard James Palmer had a season-high 34 points to pace Nebraska, which won despite shooting just 40 percent from the field. Palmer's points were just one off the Big Ten Tournament scoring record.
Nebraska struggled early but battled back to overtake the Scarlet Knights, the Cornhuskers taking their first lead with just four minutes to play. It was an incredible testament to coach Tim Miles' team's resilience. The Huskers are down to just eight available players, and just six scholarship guys because of several recent injuries and a suspension.
"James was on his game and we survived early when we didn't make shots," said Miles afterward.
Meanwhile, Maryland's win over Minnesota in the regular-season finale was cathartic on several levels. First, it snapped a two-game losing streak, only the second time the young team had experienced back-to-back losses. Secondly, some of the right players had big games to pick up some confidence heading into the postseason.
Junior point guard Anthony Cowan, the engine that makes Maryland go, bounced back from a slump that saw him hit one of his last 11 3-point attempts. He was 3-of-6 against the Gophers and put them in an early hole, scoring the Terrapins' first five points and finishing with 21 points. Cowan also had five assists and just two turnovers, Maryland's 13.2 turnovers per game has been a major issue all season long.
Jalen Smith, an X-factor for the Terps, also is picking up steam. He had 19 points and 11 rebounds, hitting a career-high three 3-pointers. When the 6-10 freshman puts up that kind of production next to Maryland double-double machine Bruno Fernando (he has 20 this season), the Terrapins are particularly tough.
"(Smith) is stepping in the right direction, where we all want him to be," said Fernando, a First Team All-Big Ten selection. "Now we've got to keep feeding him the ball."
Nebraska dropped two games to the Terps, falling 74-72 in College Park when Smith hit a jumper with three seconds left, and then getting bested 60-45 in February in Lincoln as they shot just 21 percent from the field.
The Huskers lost four straight games before they, too, won their regular-season finale, a shocking 93-91 upset of Iowa. Senior guard Glynn Watson Jr., averaged 20.8 points over the final four regular-season games and gets another game in his Chicago hometown.
"Obviously we've got difficulties," said Miles. "But at the same time ... I think there's some real adventure and fun to this, and I think that's the way the guys look at it, too. They want to keep playing. They've done such a good job of playing different positions and just doing whatever they've had to. We're just rolling with the same thing."
--Field Level Media