James Palmer Jr. scored 14 of his 20 points in the second half as Nebraska held off a late surge by Clemson for a 68-66 victory Monday night to help the Big Ten strike first in this week's ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
The Cornhuskers (6-1) outlasted the Tigers (5-2) down the stretch in the back-and-forth contest where neither team led by more than seven points. Nebraska, though, took control late in the game with a 9-4 burst after Clemson had cut a five-point lead down to 53-52. Palmer had two straight baskets and Isaac Copeland Jr. followed with a power jam. When Thomas Allen struck with a 3-poiner from the right corner, the Cornhuskers were ahead 64-56.
Clemson mounted a final comeback try and, down 66-64, had the chance to tie or take the lead in the closing seconds. But Marcquise Reed was called for traveling with 9.4 seconds left and Nebraska's Glynn Watson Jr. hit two foul shots to seal the win.
It was a strong start for the Big Ten, which has lost the past two challenges to the ACC - last year by an 11-3 margin. The conferences play 14 games in all, the majority on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The win improved Nebraska to 5-3 in challenge games since joining the Big Ten in 2011-12. The Cornhuskers picked up their third road win in challenge play after victories at Wake Forest (2012) and Florida State (2015).
It was also a bit of revenge for a tight loss at Clemson in the 2016-17 challenge when it was the Tigers pulling out a 60-58 win.
Copeland had 16 points and Watson 12 for Nebraska.
Elijah Thomas led Clemson with 16 points. Reed, who scored 24 and 27 points the past two games, was 6-of-14 shooting for 15 points.
It was obvious early this would be a hard-fought contest to start the challenge as Clemson's Elijah Thomas and Nebraska's Isaiah Roby drew technical fouls as the they hit the floor during a loose ball scrum less than two minutes in. Neither team could get much of a foothold in the opening half. The Cornhuskers got a 3-pointer by Watson and a basket by Copeland to move in front 29-25 with five minutes to go.
But after an agitated Brad Brownell called timeout, the Tigers answered back with baskets by Clyde Trapp and David Skara tie things once more.
Nebraska is fifth in the Big Ten with almost nine 3-pointers a game, but it could not find its touch in the first half as the Cornhuskers made just 3 of 14 attempts from long range.
Nebraska: The Cornhuskers looked fast, strong and talented and they'll have a chance to show that in Big Ten play starting this week against Illinois as the league begins its 20-game regular season.
Clemson: The Tigers dropped out of this week's Top 25 after losing the final of the Cayman Island Classic to Creighton 87-82 last week. They still looked like they were on island time as they played a step slow as Nebraska had 10 offensive rebounds and five steals.
Nebraska opens Big Ten Conference play against Illinois on Sunday.
Clemson faces St. Peter's on Dec. 4.