CHICAGO — In the same arena where they cheered for for Jordan and Pippen, the chants Wednesday rained down for Johnny.
Nebraska won its opening game over Rutgers at the Big Ten Tournament 68-61. Largely because James Palmer staged a superhuman performance that rates among the best in the event's history.
The Huskers won, too, because a walk-on from Elkhorn played with fire, and his teammates followed his lead.
Nebraska's band of eight will ride for at least one more day.
With more men in suits than players in uniform on their bench, the Huskers used a 15-0 run late in the second half to seize control of a game Rutgers had led for most of the way.
Palmer delivered an all-time effort, scoring 16 of Nebraska's first 18 points to start the second half and finishing with a career high-tying 34.
Palmer scored 27 in the second half, going 7-for-10 from the field. His 34 points were the second-most ever in a Big Ten Tournament game, as were his 14 made free throws. His 22 free-throw attempts set a new record.
Nebraska, down to six scholarship players and two walk-ons in this roller-coaster of a season, didn't substitute for the game's final 16 minutes while rolling out Johnny Trueblood and four regulars. The Elkhorn South product delivered again, finishing plus-20 in his 26 minutes after finishing plus-18 against Iowa.
Trueblood had three points, four rebounds, four steals and two assists.
"Johnny took a lot of pressure off a lot of us," senior guard Glynn Watson said.
By the end, the Nebraska fans in attendance were chanting the walk-on's name.
"It's wild. Who would have thought that?" Trueblood said in the Nebraska locker room. "But it's been fun. It's all that work over the past years paying off, so I'm glad I stuck with it."
Nebraska is glad, too. Because of Amir Harris' knee injury against Iowa, Nebraska suited up eight players Wednesday at the United Center — the sight of Palmer, Watson, Isaiah Roby, Tanner Borchardt, Brady Heiman, Trueblood, Thorir Thorbjarnarson and Justin Costello warming up in the enormous building was worth a chuckle, even if the circumstances that led to the situation weren't funny.
But this 13th-seeded team in a 14-team league lived to play another day, and with two consecutive comeback wins, belief is as high as it's been in weeks.
"It's awesome, because a lot of people have been counting us out. The season hasn't gone exactly how we expected it to," Roby said. "So people can give up on us, but we're not going to give up, whether we've got eight guys, six guys, five guys. That's kind of our team mantra."
Nebraska didn't give up during a lousy start that saw the Huskers miss five layups and two dunks as Rutgers built an early lead, using a 9-0 run late in the first half to chop down a seven-point Rutgers advantage and get to halftime ahead by one.
The Huskers didn't quit at the start of the second half either, when Rutgers scored five quick points on offensive rebounds and scored nine of the half's first 10 points to rebuild its seven-point advantage.
"We just knew if we could make easy shots and keep getting stops, we knew we were OK," Watson said. "That's how we felt in the first half when we made that little run. I think all of us wanted to win so bad, we put so much pressure on ourselves."
Eventually Nebraska's defense strung together stops. After hovering around 55 percent shooting most of the game, Rutgers missed 10 of its final 14 shots.
And Palmer started cooking. He kept Nebraska afloat the first 10 minutes of the second period, and once his teammates joined the fight, he delivered a pair of dunks and a dagger three-pointer as the Huskers increased their lead to 10 points late in the game.
"I knew we needed some type of spark, whether it was scoring or on the defensive end," Palmer said. "And I just wanted to lock in the second half and be way more aggressive than I was in the first half."