Chicago – 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.
More Big Ten tournament
Illinois 74, Nothwestern 69 (OT): Giorgi Bezhanishvili scored 26 points, Trent Frazier added 21, including the go-ahead 3-pointer late, and Illinois rallied for the overtime victory.
Andres Feliz had 11 points and a career-high 10 rebounds as Illinois (12-20) won for just the second time in seven games.
A.J. Turner scored 20 points and Dererk Pardon added 17 for Northwestern (13-19), which has dropped 12 of 13.
The Wildcats were playing without leading-scorer Vic Law, who sat out with a right knee injury.
Law was injured in the regular-season finale against Purdue. He banged his knee against the shin of Purdue’s Carsen Edwards and had to be helped off the court. He sat on the bench on Wednesday but was not in uniform.
After Northwestern’s Aaron Falzon scored five quick points in overtime to give the Wildcats a 66-63 lead, Illinois scored eight straight to turn around a back-and-forth battle for the final time.
Frazier made a 3-pointer for a 68-66 lead with just under three minutes to go and Ayo Dosunmu hit another 3 on the next possession for a 71-66 advantage.
MAC women’s tournament
Central Michigan 88, Eastern Michigan 80 (OT): In a quarterfinal game at Cleveland, Presley Hudson made a 3-pointer at the buzzer, sending the game into overtime tied at 73.
MAC Player of the Year Reyna Frost scored the first four points of overtime and finished with 28 points and 13 rebounds as CMU (25-6), the No. 1 seed in the tournament, advanced to play Buffalo in a semifinal on Friday.
Hudson also scored 28 for CMU.
EMU (14-17) had four players in double figures scoring, led by Jenna Annecchiarico with 21.
Courtnie Lewis made two free throws with 5.1 seconds left to put EMU ahead 73-70 before Hudson drove the length of the court and made the game-tying 3-pointer.