NEW YORK — Strong season. Fun season.
Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad day.
And the worst place, and the worst time, to have a bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad day.
Nebraska’s NCAA Tournament hopes came into Madison Square Garden hanging by a thread.
Mo Wagner, the Sith Lord of Michigan hoops, just whipped out a lightsaber and cut it.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman stomped on it.
Duncan Robinson kicked it.
Right along with your hearts.
Wolverines 77, Cornhuskers 58. The NCAA tourney bubble queue gets insanely crowded at this time of year. And the one thing that absolutely could not happen if Nebraska (22-10) was to dream of punching a second ticket to Bracketville in five years … happened.
One and done.
Strong team. Fun team.
Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad day.
Is this really the end of the line? Even after 13 league wins? A top-4 finish coming out of the Big Ten’s annual grind?
“Yes.” CBS Sports bracketologist Jerry Palm, who’s in New York this weekend, said as the Big Red fell in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals.
Just like that?
“Yes,” Palm replied. “They are done.”
Man. Man, man, man, man.
It’s official now.
We can argue the could-have-beens and the what-ifs until we’re maize and blue in the face.
Minnesota was a top-20 team, at full strength, when the Huskers de-pantsed the Gophers. Team Pitino went off the rails and took a Big Red signature victory right along with it.
If Kansas sharpshooter Svi Mykhailiuk is off the mark, this loss doesn’t hurt nearly as much.
If a road rivalry win over a good Creighton bunch is among the notches on your belt, we’re not having this conversation.
‘Yes, they are done.’
— CBS Sports bracketologist Jerry Palm on the Nebraska Cornhuskers’ NCAA tourney hopes
When you’re on the fence, you can’t give the selection committee a reason to doubt you. Not in New York City. Not late. Not now.
Not when everybody knows the stakes.
Not when you need at least one more marquee win to make your case.
The Wolverines (26-7) had revenge on their minds. And they knew the creaky shooting that let Iowa hang around on Thursday — a 3-for-19 day from beyond the arc — wasn’t going to happen for a second straight day.
To their credit, the Huskers scrapped and scratched and clawed to make it a single-digit deficit in the second half. The problem was the hole they spent nearly a half-hour digging for themselves prior to that.
It was 16 minutes to forget, the kind of footage coach Tim Miles probably would enjoy lighting on fire and chucking in the nearest dumpster.
The Huskers, confoundingly, looked like the big stage had gone to their heads, and in the worst possible way. Defensively, they chased. Offensively, they flailed. Over the first half, the only consistent part of the Big Red’s game was that they were consistently a half-step late: Michigan had outscored Nebraska 14-8 in the paint and 10-3 on second-chance points at the break, all while draining 6 of their first 13 tries from beyond the arc.
A team that prided itself on lockdown perimeter defense kept losing shooters, time and again. On one early sequence, a Michigan rebounder flew into the lane to clean up a Wolverines miss while four Nebraska shirts surrounding him just stood and watched.
A few maize and blue possessions later, the Huskers defense was deked one direction while Michigan swung the ball to the other, leaving Wagner all alone on the blocks for a thunderous dunk hat put the Wolverines up 30-15 with 4:01 left until halftime.
Fortunately, a switch to a 1-3-1 zone helped Miles and company regain some footing inside the ditch; Nebraska closed the half on a 9-1 run buoyed by 5 free-throw makes from Palmer.
The Huskers missed 23 of their first 30 shots and whiffed on 17 of 18 at one point. That Michigan’s 10-point lead at halftime felt like a moral victory says a lot about the carnage that immediately preceded it.
Strong story. Fun story.
Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad ending.