- Associated Press - Saturday, March 1, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Benny Parker came off the bench to score seven points for Nebraska, the margin of the Huskers’ 54-47 win over Northwestern Saturday. But his biggest play came on defense.

Nebraska was clinging to a four-point lead with under a minute to play when Northwestern’s Sanjay Lumpkin started to drive to the basket. The 5-foot-9 Parker moved in front of Lumpkin. The whistle blew. The call was a charge. Nebraska ball and, to Huskers coach Tim Miles, ball game.

“I thought Benny Parker’s charge was the biggest play of the game, there’s no doubt about it,” Miles said. “Then Shavon Shields’ jumper before were the two key moments in the game, I thought. We needed both of those guys to step up. Kansas City, I’m loving them tonight.”

Parker and Shields are both from the Kansas City area.

Parker said he knew he had to try get in front of Lumpkin on the crucial play.

“I just saw him going hard to the basket,” Parker said. “I just saw him put his head down. I just had to put a charge on it. The ref ended up calling it. Coach just told me to ‘D-up’ coming out of the timeout. I had to do whatever I could. I just got the charge. That was it.”

With the win, Nebraska (17-11, 9-7 Big Ten) is guaranteed a .500 Big Ten conference record, a first for the Huskers, now in their third season in the conference. Nebraska won nine conference games for the first time since 1998-99 and only the 10th time since World War II.

Northwestern (12-17, 5-11) has now lost six straight games, a streak that began with a 53-49 loss to Nebraska on Feb. 8.

“Just like when we played these guys last time, it always seems to come down, as crazy as it seems, to a make or miss here or there,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “We hung in there. We cut it to four, had the ball. I thought Nebraska did a good job, communicating, defending and forced us into a charge, which was disappointing. But I’m really proud of my guys.”

Nebraska took the lead 3½ minutes into the game and never trailed thereafter. Northwestern cut the lead to 31-30 on Drew Crawford’s 3-pointer with 11:46 remaining.

A three-point play by Shields triggered a 13-4 Nebraska run that he capped with a pair of free throws to make the score 44-34 with 7 minutes left.

Nebraska’s largest lead came on another Shields three-point play that put the Huskers up 49-38 with 3:49 left.

Northwestern’s Alex Olah, who finished with 20 points, then scored six straight to pull the Wildcats to within five. After a Nebraska basket, Crawford’s 3-pointer cut the Nebraska lead to four at 51-47.

Parker took the charge from Lumpkin to get the ball back for the Huskers with 30 seconds remaining. Shields, who had Nebraska’s last eight points, made 1 of 2 free throws, then closed the scoring with a breakaway dunk with 5 seconds left.

Shields, who led Nebraska with 17 points and 10 rebounds, said he expected Saturday’s defensive struggle that saw the Huskers hold Northwestern to 33 percent shooting, but only made 36 percent of their shots.

“We knew they packed in the paint, and if our shots weren’t falling it was going to be a tough night,” Shields said. “We had to get in transition, get stops, kind of muck it up in order to get in transition. We ended up starting to get to the rim a little better in the second half. But we knew it was going to be tough. It’s the Big Ten. It’s going to be tough every night.”

Nebraska’s 14th home win before a school record crowd of 15,978 at the new Pinnacle Bank Arena keeps the Huskers on the NCAA tournament bubble.

“It’s just another win in the process,” Miles said. “Right now, you’re either at the point where you can’t afford to lose or have to win. What’s your alternative? The league’s nuts … Next week’s games are really huge for us, both could really propel us a long way down the path to an NCAA tournament berth.”

Nebraska travels to Indiana Wednesday and closes the regular season at home against No. 14 Wisconsin on March 9.



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