LINCOLN, Neb. — Glynn Watson Jr. hit back-to-back baskets in the last two minutes and made four free throws in the final 12 seconds to lift Nebraska to a 72-68 win over Eastern Illinois on Saturday.
Nebraska struggled to score throughout the game, hitting just 39 percent of its shots from the field and making just 19 of 35 free throws in the season opener for both teams.
Eastern Illinois, which shot 40 percent for the game, led 54-48 on Montell Goodwin’s 3-pointer with 9:14 left.
The Panthers then made just one of their next 10 shots, letting Nebraska get into the lead for good.
“When you go on the road, you’ve got to make those against a good team, because it’s really hard to get opportunities,” said Eastern Illinois coach Jay Spoonhour. “Because you talk about good coaches now, I mean, there’s some good coaches over there and they’re a really, really tough defensive team to play against because it’s just hard to make passes because they’re just very big.”
The Huskers hit a pair of 3-pointers to tie the game and pulled away to lead 66-59 after Watson’s two baskets, the second banked in from the lane while falling down, and a pair of Evan Taylor free throws with 45 seconds left.
The Panthers hit three baskets down the stretch, cutting the Husker lead to 68-66 on D’Angelo Jackson’s driving layup and free throw with 12.9 seconds left.
Watson hit free throws with 11.8 seconds left and, after another Panther driving layup, with 3.6 seconds remaining to seal the win.
“I was just trying to get fouled to be honest,” Watson said. “They were in the bonus. They told us to attack. My shot wasn’t falling tonight, so I was just trying to get to the rim and draw fouls and try to make my free throws.”
That was fine with Nebraska coach Tim Miles, who wanted to see Watson at the line.
“He was the only guy out there I was going ‘okay, he’ll make both of these,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said of Watson. “Glynn didn’t think he had a great night tonight and you look at the stat line and the kid had 21 points and three assists.”
Nebraska, Miles said, struggled for most of the game but played well down the stretch in a very tight game.
“At the end I thought we settled down and played some good basketball,” said Nebraska coach Tim Miles. “We still didn’t make our foul shots, which would have really helped. I told our guys we miss 16 foul shots, shoot 38 percent and win, that’s not going to happen often and it better not.”
Nebraska led 34-33 at half despite a nearly six-minute stretch when the Huskers made just 2 of 14 shots. But Eastern Illinois couldn’t capitalize on Nebraska’s cold shooting, hitting just 39 percent of its shots in the first half.
Watson finished with 21 points. Taylor and James Palmer Jr. each had 12 for the Huskers and Isaiah Roby had 11 points and 13 rebounds.
Terrell Lewis had 13 points to lead Eastern Illinois. Jujuan Starks had 12 points and Montell Goodwin had 10 points.
Nebraska: The Huskers won their 17th straight season opener. Nebraska’s last season-opening loss in Lincoln came to Wyoming in 1980. Nebraska has won 28-straight season openers at home.
Eastern Illinois: The Panthers opened the season on the road for the fifth time in the last six years. Saturday’s game was also the third time in the last five years Eastern Illinois has opened the season against a Big Ten team, having played at Northwestern in 2013 and Indiana in 2015.
Nebraska hosts North Texas Monday before playing in the Gavitt Tipoff/Advocare Invitational Thursday.
Eastern Illinois travels to in-state rival Western Illinois Wednesday.