Nebraska’s Big Ten tournament run ends with quarterfinals loss to Wisconsin

Nebraska’s Big Ten tournament run ends with quarterfinals loss to Wisconsin
Nebraska and Wisconsin battled for a spot in the Big Ten tournament semifinals. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

CHICAGO — Nebraska fell just short of another upset Friday afternoon.

Behind Glynn Watson’s 23 points, the Huskers took 4-seed Wisconsin to the brink but fell 66-62.

NU fought from down 13 to make it 57-55 with a minute left. Watson missed the front end of a one-and-one and missed a jumper to potentially tie it. Wisconsin’s Travis Trice nailed a 3-pointer with under a minute left to go up five points.

Nebraska sits at 18-16 and will await a potential NIT bid, though coach Tim Miles’ future is up for question moving forward.

Nebraska, the Cinderella of the Big Ten tournament, held first-team All-Big Ten forward Ethan Happ to four points and seven rebounds. But clutch 3-pointers from Trice bumped the Huskers out of tournament play.

Nebraska missed everything on its first two shots, and Happ looked strong early. He scored and dished out two assists off of double teams to give the Badgers an 8-0 lead in the opening minutes.

Isaiah Roby followed a missed Watson lay up, but was called for goaltending. Miles screamed at the ref across the court and was immediately given a technical. Two free throws and a 3-pointer from Aleem Ford gave Wisconsin a 17-6 lead. A four-point play on the next possession from Ford made it 21-8 eight minutes into the game.

But the doubling down on Wisconsin’s bigs started to pay off. Nebraska turned the Badgers over nine times in the first half and cut the lead to 25-21 after making four of five shots. James Palmer found the cup twice with contact to finish a 10-2 run.

Wisconsin responded with a 9-0 run to regain control, up 34-24 before the final media timeout.

But a solo 8-0 run from Watson put Nebraska back in business. Watson hit two 3s and bailed Nebraska out on a potential shot clock violation. Nebraska went into half down 34-29. Watson had 13 at the break.

Watson came out firing in the second. A fadeaway 15-footer and a walk-up 3-pointer closed the 13-point deficit to two at 43-41 with 14 minutes left.

Nebraska missed five straight shots that could’ve tied the game or taken the lead. Finally a corner 3-pointer fell for Thor Thorbjarnarson and got NU within one at 45-44.

Nebraska continued to frustrate Wisconsin, and turned the Badgers over six more times in the opening eight minutes.

Palmer put NU up one on a scoop. Nate Reuvers banked in a 3-pointer to retake the lead. He made up for Happ’s lack of production, scoring 14 points with six rebounds and three assists.

Nebraska missed nine of 10 shots while Wisconsin went on a 7-0 run. Palmer missed a 3. Watson missed a 3. Nebraska failed to make a field goal for more than five minutes. Two Roby free throws got it down to 52-48.

Back-to-back jumpers from Watson pulled NU back to two points at 55-53.

A Johnny Trueblood lay-in kept it to two points.

Watson missed the front end of a one-and-one to potentially tie it at 57 with two minutes left.

Then he missed a jumper. Wisconsin took advantage, and closed out the win.

Husker A.D. Bill Moos will wait until postseason fate is decided before evaluating program’s future

CHICAGO — Tim Miles, unaware of his fate, leaned against the wall outside the Nebraska locker room, his red tie loose, his top button open.

For 32 minutes, Nebraska’s coach had no clue if he had a job or not.

At his postgame press conference after Nebraska’s 66-62 loss to Wisconsin in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament, Miles said Athletic Director Bill Moos would release a statement soon about his future.

“I don’t know what it is,” Miles said. “That’s out of my hands.”

And he meant it. Multiple basketball staff members shrugged when asked what was coming. Players in the locker room debated what it’d say.

Moos — who attended Nebraska’s game on Wednesday before going to California to attend his son’s spring football scrimmage — released this statement at 4:47 p.m.

“We will await Sunday’s announcement to see if we receive an invitation to participate in the NIT. Once our season is completed, my evaluation of our men’s basketball program will draw to a close.”

So Miles’ future may rely on an NIT berth. Is Nebraska’s 18-16 record enough to secure a bid? It’s possible after consecutive wins over Iowa, Rutgers and Maryland.

But is there a number of wins in the NIT that could save Miles’ job? He’s not sure.

But what’s certain is for 32 minutes — from the final buzzer to the moment Moos’ statement hit email inboxes — Miles and the basketball staff were in the dark. Wives worried on the team bus. Players sulked in the locker room and lobbied for Miles to stay. Miles hugged staff members, as if to say goodbye.

It all began when Miles took the podium about 12 minutes after the loss to Wisconsin.

“I’m extremely proud of this group,” Miles said. “I’m proud to be their coach.”

After speaking for six minutes and six seconds, Miles was escorted from the podium by a Big Ten official through the hallways of the United Center. He was stopped three times. Once by Wisconsin coach Greg Gard. Then by a Minnesota assistant.

He shook hands. He was hugged.

Miles made his way into the locker room and ducked behind the coaching quarters on the opposite side of the lockers. He sat down in a black leather chair and took a deep breath, a mirror on the opposite side of the room reflecting his every move.

On the other side of the wall, a shirtless James Palmer praised his coach.

“He’s a good dude off the court, he takes care of us,” Palmer said “I think he should stay.”

Watson, who scored 23 points against Wisconsin, has been with Miles longer than any player in the program. He lifted his head briefly and said he loved Miles.

“I think he fights for the guys no matter what’s going on,” Watson said. “I think he’s a great guy on the court and off the court. I know he doesn’t seem like that always to the fans or whoever, but I think he should be able to stay.”

Isaiah Roby, a potential NBA draft prospect, let out a long sigh when asked if he’d leave for the NBA if Miles was let go.

“Too early to say,” he said.

They all said they’d play in the NIT. They’d welcome it, even if it wasn’t their ultimate goal this season.

At 4:44 p.m., Miles made his way back out to the hallway and took his spot for one final media interview. BTN’s “The Journey” had a camera and a boom mic near Miles’ face.

He leaned against an indigo silhouette of the Chicago skyline. He talked of his team, of their fight.

When asked if he was frustrated to not know his fate, he took a moment. His eyes went misty.

“I’ve accepted the fact I’ve ran my race.”

Three minutes later, Moos released the statement.

The race may not be over for Miles. But he sees a finish line coming.