LINCOLN — James Palmer couldn’t find his shot anywhere.
He bricked a 3 from the top of the key and missed a jumper from 15 feet, had two charges called on him on his first two drives. So when he found himself wide open on the wing, the preseason All-Big Ten guard fired up a shot without hesitation. It thunked off the back of the rim.
But the ball found a home in the long, outstreched arms of freshman Brady Heiman. He landed in traffic, spun around and tossed up a shot that banked in. His fifth point in 60 seconds.
That was the story of Nebraska’s 75-40 exhibition win over Wayne State on Thursday. The starters, for the most part, struggled early on. But the Huskers were picked up by their bench.
“Those guys stepped up,” starter Isaiah Roby said. “We kind of have a different team this year, especially our bench.”
Roby led Nebraska with 12 points and 10 rebounds in 20 minutes of play. Palmer finished with 10 points but shot 4 for 12 from the floor after beginning his day 1 for 6. Glynn Watson added nine points and five assists; Thomas Allen finished with nine points, seven rebounds and five assists; and Isaac Copeland had six points and eight rebounds.
All 12 Huskers who played scored, including walk-ons Justin Costello (two points) and Johnny Trueblood (three points) as well as freshmen Amir Harris (three points) and Heiman (nine points.)
But coach Tim Miles wasn’t particularly pleased with his team’s performance.
“For us (to be successful), we need to shoot the 3, stop the 3 and we need to rebound, and if we can do those things, we’ll be good,” Miles said. “And tonight I don’t think we rebounded all that well in terms of the physicality of eliminating our opponent. And I know we didn’t shoot well.”
As a team, Nebraska shot 39 percent from the floor and 4 for 26 from 3-point range.
“It’s (a problem),” Miles said of the shooting. “Yeah, you can’t sit there and look at 4 for 26 and say we’re fine.”
It took a while for Nebraska to break out a double-digit lead on Wayne State. Miles subbed in 10 guys in the first eight minutes, which led to a clunky start. Nebraska led 14-9 at the under-12 timeout. At the half, Nebraska led 39-21, but NU’s bench shot 6 for 12 from the floor while the starters were 7 for 26.
The team does deserve some grace, though, because Miles subbed in bench players early and often, purposefully throwing out different lineups to see how his team would react. Because of that, Nebraska didn’t run very many set plays Thursday night, which it will do during the season. Most of the game was a free-flowing motion offense, which meant at times guys looked a little lost. That led to two scoring droughts that lasted a total of seven minutes.
At the beginning of the second half, Nebraska played its starters and ran some sets. It was the best NU looked all evening. Roby hit a fallaway jumper, Palmer took out some frustration on a transition jam and Copeland hit Roby backdoor for an easy layup. Allen hit a 3 and Nebraska blew open a 24-point lead.
But soon after, Nebraska junked up the lineup and went into a drought, this one lasting nearly four minutes.
“(We need) better flow and rhythm and flow on offense,” Miles said.
After the 12-minute mark in the second half, the starters’ nights were over. And it was all bench for the final few minutes.
And though Miles doesn’t love his depth entering the season, for a few minutes the bench showed glimpses of its talent.
Nana Akenten hit a 3 and got fouled on a layup for six straight points. Allen found Heiman rolling to the bucket and the freshman slammed it home. Heiman had seven rebounds, too.
“Yeah, I mean, first time going down to play in front of Nebraska fans was definitely a little nerve-wracking, but I’m glad I got it under my belt,” Heiman said.
Costello got on the board with a fadeaway jumper as the shot clock expired. And sophomore Thorir Thorbjarnarson went behind his back in the middle of the lane, scooped and scored to the awe of the remaining Pinnacle Bank Arena crowd.
“Yeah, that’s the Euro flavor,” Roby said of the Iceland native.
In the end, Nebraska held Wayne State to 23 percent shooting and 5 for 22 from 3-point range. Nebraska overwhelmed the Wildcats, keeping them scoreless for the final six minutes, and won by 35.
But expectations in Lincoln this year are high. And Miles’ bar for his team is even higher. He’s said in recent weeks he’s not worried about the lack of vocal leadership, but it’s something he’s watching. He’s not worried about Nebraska’s poor shooting on Thursday, or Palmer’s slow start, but he’s keeping a close eye on it.
What’s important, he said, is Nebraska won, and escapes the offseason healthy. The real test begins Tuesday, against Mississippi Valley State in the season opener.
“It was good to play everybody and it was good to get a win,” Miles said. “I think that that’s really important.”