LINCOLN — That’s how you break a long losing streak, avenge the worst home loss in school history and tickle the interest of the NCAA Selection Committee.
Nebraska built a 12-point lead in the first half Thursday night on No. 23 Michigan with a frenetic defensive effort, then carried it forward with equal energy to record a 72-52 victory in front of a raucous crowd of 14,589 at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
The Huskers (14-7, 5-3) had never beaten UM in eight games since joining the Big Ten seven seasons ago. The last time they met, the Wolverines hung a 36-point loss on NU — the nastiest in 122 seasons of the sport in Lincoln.
And Michigan came in hot, having won nine of its past 10 and entering the rankings this week for the first time.
But this was no contest.
“It’s good to check that box,” NU coach Tim Miles said of claiming a win in the series.
Nebraska shot 60 percent the first half and 50 percent in the second. The Huskers forced Michigan (16-5, 5-3) into 12 turnovers in the first 25 minutes, when its average was 9.8 per game, good for sixth in the nation.
The final margin of 20 points was Nebraska’s largest over a ranked opponent in 14 years — since a 72-44 over No. 25 Texas Tech in 2004.
Winning the game in a way that forces the rest of the Big Ten to take notice had Miles beaming.
“It’s where we had hoped to be, and it’s what we thought we could do,” he said. “I told the guys I was proud of them, but now we’re going to expect you to keep doing it.”
Michigan coach John Beilein said league members had better pay attention to Nebraska. The Huskers are tied for fourth with the Wolverines, who suffered their biggest Big Ten loss in five years.
“They had a great game plan,” Beilein said. “They played much better than us. And they got the W. They have a chance this year to be really a very good team.
“I don’t believe we’ll be the last team to come out here and not come away with a win.”
Nebraska improved to 11-1 at home by clamping down on a Michigan offense averaging 76.3 points a game. NU allowed only 37.5 percent shooting and held UM to a season-low four 3-pointers on 18 tries.
Most frustrated was Wolverine forward Mo Wagner, an All-Big Ten candidate. Just five days after he torched No. 4 Michigan State for 27 points, Nebraska held him to two points on 1 of 5 shooting.
Husker forward Isaac Copeland said he would give Nebraska’s defense a grade of A.
Not an A-plus?
“No,” he said. “Because they still scored. We take pride in it. Against a good team like that, we want to lock them up and win the game.”
Nebraska, using a game plan primarily designed by assistant Kenya Hunter, aggressively chased Michigan off the 3-point line, yet still prevented easy driving lanes to the basket. NU switched all screens — regardless of who was on the floor — and gained energy from the frustration Michigan showed.
“It started early,” NU forward Isaiah Roby said. “They were yelling at each other. You could see that, and we were feeding off it and the crowd was feeding off it.”
Nebraska forced the Wolverines into more turnovers in the first half (9) than baskets (8), holding them to one make in a 10:38 stretch.
The smothering defense didn’t stop in the second half as NU broke to an 18-point lead at 49-31 with 11:59 to play. The Huskers held Michigan to one field goal in a five-minute stretch while building that advantage.
The lead eventually grew to 21 points at 63-42 after Nebraska guard James Palmer scored five straight points. He finished with a game-high 19 while taking just eight shots.
One of those was a “take that” 3-pointer with some swagger after Michigan had closed to 14 points. The swish produced a roar that reverberated through PBA.
Roby, who had 14 points and three rebounds, played in last March’s 93-57 loss to Michigan.
“I was in the presser last year, too,” he said, “and I said something like, ‘I never want to forget this feeling.’ It’s good to flip the tables on them. It was a big game for us for sure.”
Miles thought so, too, in terms of entering the NCAA tournament conversation.
“I would hope we’re in a good place,” he said. “I think this is a five- or six-bid league. I want to be one of those.”