James Palmer did what he does.

Nebraska did what it had to do.

And the Huskers' NCAA Tournament dream lives for another day.

Palmer scored 24 of his 26 points in the second half, including 15 in a row in one stretch, as the Nebraska men's basketball team edged Maryland 70-66 on Tuesday at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

Nebraska improved to 20-8 overall and 11-4 in the Big Ten — the first time since the 1992-93 season the Huskers have won 20 regular-season games.

This team tied the earliest day a Husker squad has reached 20 wins. The 1990-91 team, which won a school-record 26 games, also won its 20th on Feb. 13, 1991.

"It's great, but we're not planning on stopping here," Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. "I told our guys a week ago, if you've counted wins, you've done it wrong. Because if you think, 'Oh, I think we can get to 20 or 21 this year,' you need to get your mind free of that and just keep playing and keep winning."

It's been made clear by those who deal in such matters that the Huskers likely need to keep winning right on through the end of the season to secure the program's first NCAA Tournament since the 2013-14 season.

With Tuesday's game in the balance in the closing minutes, the weight of the situation settled over the PBA crowd of 15,397.

And the Huskers rose to meet the challenge.

While not making a field goal for the game's final 5 minutes, 42 seconds, the Huskers leaned hard on a defense that was battered inside by Maryland center Bruno Fernando but held leading scorers Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter to a combined 19 points on 8-of-22 shooting.

Cowan, a sophomore guard averaging 18 points per game in league play, finished with seven on 3-of-13 shooting while getting hounded by Nebraska junior Glynn Watson. 

Huerter, who scored 26 against the Huskers last season and was averaging 16 points in conference games, finished with 12 and fouled out.

"I really think our defense and our ability to keep them off the three-point line and still rebound with them was just as important (as Palmer's game)," Miles said. "It's just not as pretty."

It was Watson who made the game's biggest defensive play, blocking a Cowan three-pointer with 53 seconds left and Nebraska clinging to a 64-63 lead.

Cowan's attempt came only after the Huskers were able to shut off Maryland's first two options on the play, a back cut for Huerter and a post feed to Fernando.

"I was just trying to be in the right spot, to be honest," Watson said. "We were just aggressive. We tried to deny some of their things, especially from number 1 (Cowan) and number 4 (Huerter) because the offense goes through them."

The 6-foot-10, 245-pound Fernando finished with 21 points, nine rebounds and five assists to lead Maryland (17-11, 6-9 Big Ten).

Isaiah Roby finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks for Nebraska, scoring all 10 points in the second half. He and Palmer combined for 35 of Nebraska's 40 second-half points. The only other Husker points after halftime came on a three-pointer from Anton Gill less than five minutes into the half, and a pair of Watson free throws with 6 seconds to play.

"It's definitely fun paying in big games like this. Everybody likes playing in big games with big crowds," Palmer said. "I think we came out in the second half and showed we can play with anybody."

Whether Nebraska gets the chance to play with the nation's best in a month is still up in the air. But Tuesday night, the Huskers showed they're not going away without a fight.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7436 or cbasnett@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraCB.


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