LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — As good as Malik Smith was for Minnesota, Terran Petteway was even better for Nebraska.
Petteway scored a career-best 35 points, Nebraska overcame Smith’s shooting exhibition in his first start for the Gophers, and the Cornhuskers bounced back from a crushing loss at Penn State to hang on for an 82-78 victory Sunday.
“The commentator told me after the game that I had my career (high). I was surprised,” Petteway said. “Even the guys in the room said that was a quiet 35. I didn’t even know.”
Nebraska (10-9, 2-5 Big Ten) needed just about every one of those 35 points. The Gophers (15-6, 4-4) trailed by 15 points with 14:33 left and by 10 with 1:20 to play. But it was a two-point game with two seconds left after Daquein McNeil’s layup. Petteway hit two free throws with a second left to secure the win.
Smith tied a Minnesota record with eight 3-pointers and equaled his career high of 29 points, scored against Stetson when he was playing for Florida International last season. Smith started in place of season scoring leader Andre Hollins, who sprained his left ankle early in Wednesday’s game against Wisconsin.
First-year Minnesota coach Richard Pitino, who coached Smith at Florida International, said he wasn’t surprised by Smith’s big game.
“He relishes this type of opportunity,” he said. “It’s a guy who had no scholarship offer out of junior college besides us, and now he’s putting 29 up on the road in the Big Ten. It says a lot about his ability to step up.”
The Huskers played without their third-leading scorer, Deverell Biggs. Coach Tim Miles said Biggs was out for personal reasons. Biggs had made a couple turnovers late in last week’s 58-54 loss at Penn State, and he wasn’t on the bench. Miles said he wouldn’t discuss Biggs’ status until after he’s met with him.
Sunday’s performance was the kind of bounce-back Miles was looking for from his players after they squandered a lead in the last 2 minutes against a last-place Penn State team Thursday.
“With no disrespect to anybody, I think they thought they earned a win there and just gave it away. I’m not so sure they aren’t correct on that,” Miles said.
Walter Pitchford made his first three shots to get the Huskers going against the Gophers and finished with 13 points. Shavon Shields made a 3-pointer for his first basket right before halftime to give Nebraska a five-point lead, and he ended up with 10 points.
Nebraska hit a season-high 11 3-pointers, with Petteway making four and Pitchford three, and the Huskers scored their most points in a conference game since joining the Big Ten in 2011.
Petteway was 10 of 15 from the field and 11 of 14 on free throws, and he and Shields had six rebounds apiece.
“He’s a machine. He really is,” Miles said of Petteway. “Terran, he’s obsessed with work. There’s no doubt about it. I’ve had really hard workers throughout my career, 19 years. I don’t know that I’ve had a guy work harder at their game than Terran, and then be able to put it into team form. That’s an important integration that not every player can pull off.”
The Huskers improved to 9-1 at the new Pinnacle Bank Arena, with their only loss being a one-pointer to Big Ten-leading Michigan.
The Huskers, who came in shooting 31 percent on 3-pointers in conference games, made 7 of 14 in the first half while getting out to a 35-30 lead.
The Gophers wouldn’t have been that close if it weren’t for Smith, who matched his season high for 3-pointers with five in the opening 20 minutes.
Nebraska fans razzed Minnesota center Elliott Eliason, a Chadron native who took a scholarship offer from Minnesota instead of Nebraska. He drew boos whenever he touched the ball and went to the bench with four fouls with 5:14 to play. He finished with five points and four rebounds.
“I thought we played hard and didn’t give up, but they really made some big-time shots and they did a great job preparing,” Pitino said. “I can’t say enough about coach Miles. He took over a tough situation, but he’s building it the right way. I have no doubt they’ll continue to improve.”
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