Perhaps you saw Tim Miles repeatedly pump his fists after Benny Parker forced an air-balled three-point attempt by Ravonte Rice, and a subsequent shot clock violation, in the second half of Wednesday night's game.
The Nebraska basketball coach was just as fired up after the game about Parker’s contributions as he was during it.
Miles glowed about Parker, a 5-9 sophomore point guard, after the Huskers’ 67-58 victory over Illinois at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Parker played 24 minutes, or eight more than he’s played in any Big Ten game this season, and his most playing time, period, since logging 27 minutes in Nebraska’s season opener against Florida Gulf Coast.
“There’s no doubt he’s earned those minutes,” Miles said. “He’s just continued to play well and play better, and he’s done a terrific job."
The emergence of Parker is in part because of the January dismissal of Deverell Biggs, but Parker has also earned his time with his defensive intensity.
“He should be commended," Miles said. "I told him at the beginning of the year, ‘You’re our third point guard. I don’t know if you’ll even play in games.’ I just painted the worst possible scenario for him and he just looked me right in the eye, like, ‘Forget you. Watch.’ And he’s played great.
“I just can’t say enough about his resilience and his ability to go out and just absolutely battle and find a place on our team that’s very productive.”
Miles said Parker, who had four steals, was “as disruptive defensively as I’ve seen him, ever, for us.”
Forward David Rivers, another player who’s seen increased time lately, was also key. The junior tied his career-high with seven rebounds, and for a time in the second half, was the only Husker patrolling the defensive boards.
Miles also said the re-emergence of Rivers at the four spot has benefitted Shavon Shields, who’s playing more at the three. Shields, of course, scored a career-high 33 points, and tied guard Jack Moore’s school record of 15 consecutive made free throws in a game.
Nebraska won despite not playing its best, which is a good sign for a young team. The Huskers battled back, quickly, from two deficits, and both times, Shields was key.
Illinois led 12-4 when Shields scored Nebraska’s next 10 points to force a 14-14 tie. And in the second half, when Illinois led 40-34, Terran Petteway had a three-pointer and Shields converted his first of three three-point plays, tying the game at 40.
Nebraska also used some strong defensive stands in both halves, igniting some of the loudest cheers from the crowd of 14,412.
“It’s amazing when a team actually goes out and does what they’re supposed to do, how that can just scintillate an entire arena and how it can really energize a team,” Miles said, “and we were really good for a nice stretch in that first half, and that was important, because we had been waffling a little bit.”
That said, Miles thought the crowd could’ve been louder.
“We need that crowd more into it, by the way,” he said. “I’m giving them like a B-minus tonight. We need A-plusses here. We need some Dr. Dre. We need some heads ringing.”
Nebraska, at 13-10 overall and 5-6 in the Big Ten, is tied with Minnesota and Northwestern for sixth place in the conference, although technically, the Huskers hold the tiebreaker, given their victories over both teams.
Not that it really matters, what with so much left to be determined. Nebraska is only a game out of fourth place, but also only two games from last place.
Next up is Sunday’s game at Michigan State, currently sitting in first place. The Huskers then finish with four of six games at Pinnacle Bank Arena, where they’re 11-1.
“Who knows what we could do at Michigan State, and who knows what somebody could do to us here?” Miles said.
“The problem is Michigan State’s sitting there on Sunday saying we’re going to try to knock your teeth out. The one thing I’ve learned about this league, my house, your house, the playground, every night’s just a scrum, a battle. Don’t take anything for granted.”
Finally, a recruiting note.
Nebraska had an unofficial visit Wednesday night from Darien Williams, a 6-9 freshman forward at Iowa Western Community College, and a member of the 2015 recruiting class.
Williams received a Nebraska scholarship offer on his visit. He’s also been offered by Kansas State.