LINCOLN — A must-win the first week of December?
Nebraska’s 78-68 men’s basketball victory over No. 14 Minnesota almost felt like it, coach Tim Miles said, because of the schedule the Big Ten handed to the Huskers (7-3, 1-1) and the team’s season goals.
All Big Ten schools played two league games over the past week because the conference tourney is one week earlier than usual, starting Feb. 28 at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Nebraska, by drawing No. 3 Michigan State on the road and No. 14 Minnesota, was one of only two teams — Rutgers being the other — to start with two ranked opponents.
When Big Ten play resumes the first week of January, NU plays at preseason Top 25 Northwestern, at No. 21 Purdue, home against Wisconsin — a top four finisher in the league for 16 straight seasons — and at Penn State.
All of that was part of Miles’ pregame message.
“I said, ‘Listen, guys, you never say must-win, but we’ve got to do this,’ ’’ Miles said. “If we’re going to fight for postseason, this has got to happen.
“This is an older group of guys, and they know what it takes. The effort was gritty, and it was tough-minded until the chaos at the end. Guys won’t let anything happen easily.’’
Some craziness occurred with 4:37 to play and Nebraska leading 67-50.
Husker guard James Palmer was called for fouling Minnesota guard Amir Coffey. Extra contact between the two after the whistle led to a technical on each player, and NU center Jordy Tshimanga drew another technical for stepping in.
Minnesota got four foul shots — two from the initial foul, two from the dead-ball technical — and possession, but got only three points from it.
The Gophers never caught up with Nebraska point guard Glynn Watson.
The 6-foot junior from Chicago scored 29 points — 20 in the second half. He also led the team in rebounding with nine and added three steals and two assists. On Wednesday, the Huskers’ required day off, Watson was in the practice facility working out on his own.
Watson said the way NU played against Minnesota — efficient offense, strong defense, “gang-rebounding’’ — needs to be the standard.
“I feel like this is our team,’’ he said. “When guys share the ball and get each other open, and just playing defense. That’s got to be one of our main things.
“We keep doing that, there’s not going to be many teams that can beat us.’’
Nebraska still has a full plate schedule-wise, with a game Saturday at recently ranked Creighton and the following Saturday at home with No. 2 Kansas. But a victory over a ranked opponent makes the future looks brighter than it did after a 29-point loss at Michigan State.
“It’s a great boost of confidence going into league play,’’ Miles said. “Our guys weren’t happy with the way they played at Michigan State. They want to prove they are better than that.’’
» Nebraska had an official recruiting visit Monday and Tuesday from 6-foot-10, 225-pound center Florent Thamba, a three-star prospect from Mountain Mission School in Grundy, Virginia. Thamba has visited Virginia Tech, Xavier and Pittsburgh, and has offers from Baylor, Illinois, Memphis, Oklahoma State, Penn State and TCU among others.
» The Huskers also have offered the 6-10, 240-pound Antun Maricevic from Zagreb, Crotia. Maricevic is a sophomore at Casper (Wyoming) College. He averages 15.5 points and 7.0 rebounds a game while shooting 69 percent from the field and 83 percent from the foul line. He has offers from Wichita State, South Florida, BYU, Utah State and Loyola Marymount among others.
» NU is 19th nationally in blocked shots per game at 5.9 after nine rejections against Minnesota. The Huskers are tied for 271st in rebounding margin at minus-2.6 per game.
Nebraska at Creighton
When: 1:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: CenturyLink Center