KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missouri State coach Dana Ford paid Nebraska the ultimate compliment Monday after the Huskers pulled away from his Bears at the Hall of Fame Classic.
“They’re very skilled, they’re very athletic, and they’re old,” Ford said.
In college hoops, old is good. And Nebraska's veterans carried the load, as the Huskers pulled away from Missouri State for an 85-62 win at the Sprint Center.
Senior forward Isaac Copeland led the way, scoring 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting, and adding seven rebounds and four assists, as Missouri State struggled to find a player who could guard him.
"I was just kind of playing my game and it happened to be my night tonight," the businesslike Copeland said. "We have a couple guys who can do that. It just depends on the game."
Fellow senior Glynn Watson added 16 points and four assists as he and Copeland kept Nebraska (4-0) afloat for the first 30 minutes against a pesky Missouri State team that is probably one year from competing at the top of the Missouri Valley Conference.
Nebraska will play Texas Tech at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday in the tournament's championship game. The Red Raiders knocked off USC 78-63 in the evening's second game.
The Bears (3-1) threw a variety of defenses at NU on Monday, pinching off driving lanes, and frustrating NU leading scorer James Palmer into his worst night of the season — eight points on 3-of-11 shooting to go with five turnovers and three fouls.
"They threw a lot of defensive schemes at us and stuff like that, and they helped a lot, so we tried to make some threes," Watson said. "I think we settled a little bit, but we’ve just got to find a way."
Nebraska shot more three-pointers (13-of-33) than two-pointers (18-of-28) as Missouri State packed it in defensively.
"It's a very versatile group, and it was a challenge for our guys to defend them, and to be able to maintain the type of defense you need in order to compete with them on the other end," Ford said.
Despite leading for the game's final 33 minutes, Nebraska was unable to fully to tighten the screws until midway though the second half.
With Nebraska leading by nine points with about 10 minutes left, Copeland and Thomas Allen hit threes one minute apart, and the Bears got no closer than 11 the rest of the way. It was a 13-point lead when Isaiah Roby blocked a shot, Nana Akenten hit a three, and Roby followed with two free throws to put things out of reach.
"I don't think there was any doubt we were going to be able to exert our will," Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. "I think the guys just stayed with it. We've got a very solid group. When you listen to them, you know they're grounded in the right things. They're a fun team to coach, I trust them, and I think that's important, too."
Roby finished with 13 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots, and for the most part avoided the foul trouble that had plagued him in Nebraska's first three games. Akenten came off the bench to score 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting.