LINCOLN — Nebraska has become the team that can’t be killed.
Take away the stretch four in Isaac Copeland, roll the ankle of 3-point specialist Thomas Allen, suspend bench spark Nana Akenten, mess with the back of big man Brady Heiman, force NU to play six guys for 40 minutes and pile on the pressure for a coach on the hot seat.
Won’t matter. For the past 11 days, Nebraska’s been near impossible to put away.
Which is why, behind a career-high 28 points from Isaiah Roby, Nebraska secured its first postseason victory in more than a decade with an 80-76 win over Butler on Wednesday night.
“We’re a resilient group,” walk-on senior Johnny Trueblood said. “I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again.”
Nebraska led by as many as 12 with 6:06 left, but Butler cut that to one in the final 90 seconds.
A hook shot from Roby gave NU a four-point lead with less than 30 seconds left. A steal and free throws from Watson sealed the win.
Butler hit 12 3-pointers and played four more players, but Nebraska outscored the Bulldogs 40-26 in the paint. Palmer finished with 23 points and five rebounds. Watson added 17 points and four assists.
Nebraska is now 19-16, and will play at top-seed TCU in the second round of the NIT on Sunday.
The Huskers have won four of five games, which hasn’t happened since December — when the NCAA tournament seemed like a gimmie and Miles’ future seemed set on a different path.
But Nebraska’s creating a new reality, one that seemed out of reach when they lost 11 of 13 games from January to March. A reality in which this team pushes through adversity, and cares, and wants to keep playing together as long as possible.
A season ago, Nebraska lost at Mississippi State in the first round of the NIT. But Wednesday, everything was different.
“Last year we really felt like it was a let down to be in the NIT,” Roby said. “This year we went to Chicago and we felt like we earned our spot in the NIT this year, so we definitely feel like we’re playing to win it all. That’s the biggest difference.”
That belief, that fight, came out early when the Huskers fell behind 14-2. Four Bulldogs made 3-pointers in the first five minutes.
But Nebraska began to feed Roby and he closed the gap. The junior scored Nebraska’s first 11 points while the rest of the team missed its first eight shots from the field.
A 7-0 run gave NU its first lead, 29-27. A Roby dunk gave the Huskers a 31-30 halftime lead.
“Coaches really challenged me to be aggressive. They felt I had a really big mismatch,” Roby said.
He had 17 at the break, his only miss coming at the buzzer from 30 feet.
Nebraska didn’t take control until a 14-2 run midway through the second half, scoring primarily at the bucket. Palmer made four shots in the first five minutes to give the Huskers a cushion. Butler’s 3-point percentage regressed to the mean in front of a crowd of more than 10,000.
The Nebraska lead grew to 12, but two quick 3-pointers from Sean McDermott on back-to-back possessions cut that in half before the final media timeout. He led Butler with 14 points and seven rebounds.
An and-one from Jordan Tucker cut it to 71-70 with 93 seconds left. But scores from Roby and free throws from Watson gave Nebraska its first postseason win in more than a decade.
After the game, Miles grabbed the microphone and thanked the crowd for coming out. With TCU’s win, Nebraska will not return to PBA this year. There are questions if Miles ever will.
Miles said he felt like a politician, citing reasons again that this is a “big-boy business” and that he loves this job and this school. Any decision about his future is out of his hands, he said.
After media interviews, he hugged Pinnacle Bank Arena staff members and joked with fans in the empty arena.
But Miles’ team won’t let him go that easily.
Take away the home venue, take away the routine of school, take away the 10,000 fans and rest and relaxation.
His team won’t die just yet.
“Yeah I’m tired but we got a game either Saturday or Sunday,” Trueblood said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Creighton to host Memphis, Nebraska set to travel to TCU in second round of NIT
Creighton and Nebraska will each have at least one more game in the NIT.
The No. 2 seed Bluejays, who defeated Loyola-Chicago 70-61 Tuesday night, will host No. 3 seed Memphis at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the CHI Health Center. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.
The No. 4 seed Huskers will travel to face No. 1 seed TCU on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. after earning an 80-76 win over Butler on Wednesday at Pinnacle Bank Arena. NU’s game will also be broadcast on ESPNU.
If CU and NU both win, the Jays will host the Huskers at the CHI Health Center in the NIT quarterfinals March 26 or 27. Nebraska defeated Creighton 94-75 at Pinnacle Bank Arena earlier this season.
The NIT semifinals will take place April 2 at Madison Square Garden in New York.
NIT 2nd Round: Nebraska at TCU
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday
Radio: 1600 AM, 105.5 FM