KANSAS CITY, Mo. — With two seconds left on the shot clock, Tim Miles called out a defense for an out-of-bounds play. He crossed his arms in an X. The defense nodded.
Amir Harris slipped and couldn’t close out on Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver, who caught the ball on the wing and threw up a 3-pointer quickly. He drilled it, pushing the Red Raider lead to 10.
Miles turned around in disgust, and chucked a pen behind the bench.
In a battle between two of the top defenses in the country, the Red Raiders prevailed in the Hall of Fame Classic championship game, bugging the Huskers inside and out in Nebraska’s first loss of the year, 70-52.
It was Nebraska’s first big test of the season.
“We failed the test,” senior Isaac Copeland said.
Nebraska (4-1), a one-point favorite entering the game, shot a season-worst 35 percent from the floor and made 5 of 23 shots from 3-point range. Copeland led Nebraska with 20 points and eight rebounds. James Palmer, who battled foul trouble most of the game, had 13 with two rebounds. No other Huskers scored in double digits.
“It was tough,” said Palmer, who had three offensive fouls and fouled out of the game. “That’s a great defensive team.”
Texas Tech (5-0) shot 43 percent from the floor, forced 14 Nebraska turnovers and relied on its size, finishing with 34 points in the paint. Culver led the Red Raiders with 26 points. The Red Raiders were tougher, outrebounding Nebraska 38-29 and scoring seven more second chance points.
“They really just made everything a grind, everything very difficult,” Miles said. “They come up with the ball with hustle or grit or whatever you want to call it. Luck, it doesn’t matter.”
Texas Tech packed it in and forced NU to win from the outside. That worked well for the Red Raiders. Drive and kick-out 3-pointers were there for NU all night, but they couldn’t knock them down, shooting 22 percent from 3.
Nebraska shot out to a 13-4 lead in the first four minutes. A Glynn Watson 3-pointer from the corner in transition forced Texas Tech coach Chris Beard to call a timeout at 13-4.
But Palmer went out with his second offensive foul, and Nebraska’s offense disappeared. And Texas Tech started to close the gap.
The Red Raiders took a 16-15 lead on a 3-pointer from Brandone Francis. It would end up becoming a 14-2 run for Texas Tech, seven of those points coming on second-chance points in the lane.
Nebraska, meanwhile, went on a five-minute scoring drought. The Huskers trailed 20-17 at the under-eight timeout.
Palmer came back in and hit a 3, from the same spot as his first, to pull Nebraska to 22-22. He finished the first half with nine points.
Then, two of the best defenses in college basketball settled in, Nebraska with a 1-2-2 press that bothered the Red Raiders, then later a 1-3-1 zone, which did the same. Tech, meanwhile, forced eight first-half turnovers, and Nebraska’s offense stalled.
“We punched first and they punched second, and when James got in foul trouble we quit scoring, and that was bothersome to me that we couldn’t get somebody else going,” Miles said.
Tech guard Matt Mooney finished the half with a solo 6-0 run, and the Red Raiders went into the half up 32-26.
Nebraska cut the lead to two in the first four minutes of the second half. With 15:10 left, Palmer reached in transition and was called for his fourth foul. And just like the last time he went out, Nebraska’s offense disappeared. The Huskers relied on quick jumpers, which didn’t fall.
Tech grew a four-point lead back to 45-38 with 11:29 left.
Nebraska failed to score a field goal for more than five minutes in the middle of the second half, and in that span, the lead grew to 11. After a 3 from Culver took the lead to 13, Miles got his second technical of the year for telling the ref to call a travel.
With 7:58 left, Nebraska trailed by 15 and was shooting 35 percent for the half, and it didn’t look like it had a lot of options. It never found a solution. Texas Tech even went on a four-minute drought without a field goal, but Nebraska couldn’t capitalize.
“I didn’t think we were that bad defensively,” Miles said. “Rebounding, coming up with loose balls, and offense, and ball-handling all outweigh that.”
Miles said his team is casual, no doubt about it, and when things didn’t go well, his team didn’t respond.
But it’s also early in the season. This loss, he said, could help down the road.
“It’s valuable if we learn our lesson,” Miles said.