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A frustrated Amir Coffey took a swipe at James Palmer late in the game Tuesday night.

James Palmer swiped back, and his teammates all stepped forward with him.

Nebraska wasn't giving away anything on this night.

Two days after getting taken to the woodshed by the Big Ten's best team, the Huskers returned the favor against what could very well be the league's second-best squad in a 78-68 victory over No. 14 Minnesota in front of 13,847 at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

"I think this was a great win for us. We needed this. Earlier we played some good teams, but this team right here, this is what’s going to test us," said senior Duby Okeke, who helped lead a monster Nebraska effort defensively. "We needed to build confidence and just build our momentum, because for weeks we’ve been trying to figure out what our identity is, and can we get things clicking. But this win really helped us because now we can get stuff on a roll."

Nebraska (7-3, 1-1 Big Ten) didn't trail after the halfway mark of the first half, and led by as many as 17 points in the second, getting 29 points, nine rebounds, three steals and two assists from Glynn Watson and playing the best interior defense it has all season.

That effort was led by Isaac Copeland, who had 12 points, five rebounds and two blocked shots; Jordy Tshimanga, who had four points, six boards and a block; and Okeke and Isaiah Roby, who both came off the bench to score four points.

"I really like their team," Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. "They just played better than we did. When we needed to get stops, we couldn't do it. They did a really good jobs with our bigs, and our bigs have been really good."

Watson picked up his first two fouls in the first four minutes of the second half, but also scored Nebraska’s first seven points out of the locker room to put the Huskers up 46-32 with 15:57 left and force a Minnesota timeout.

Nebraska’s best defensive half of the season led to a 39-31 lead at halftime, and the tone was set on the first possession of the game when Tshimanga and Copeland doubled Reggie Lynch in the post, forced a missed shot, then drew a foul on Lynch thanks to a strong box-out.

The Huskers held the Big Ten’s highest-scoring team to 33 percent shooting, outrebounded the Gophers 25-19 and — one game after being outscored 32-8 in the paint by Michigan State — led that stat 16-14.

Perhaps most importantly, Nebraska drew two fouls apiece on Minnesota’s three best players: Nate Mason, Jordan Murphy and Lynch.

Murphy, averaging 21 points and 13 rebounds coming in, was 1-of-7 in the first half with four points and four rebounds. He finished with 10 points and 12 boards, going 4-of-12 from the field.

"Me and Roby going into the game, we really needed to focus and lock in on this guy," forward Copeland said. "But I think it took all five of us on defense. He's a good player. But we were able to get him in foul trouble early and get him off his game a little bit."

The Huskers led for the last 10 minutes of the half, and if not for three wide open misses from three-point range, the advantage would have been even larger.

Mason led Minnesota (8-2, 1-1) with 20 points. Coffey finished with 17 on 5-of-15 shooting.

Nebraska also won the rebounding battle 42-38, led by Watson's nine and Evan Taylor's seven. Tshimanga and Copeland combined for 11 more boards.

"I feel like this is our team. When guys share the ball and get each other open, that makes it easier, and just playing good defense. That's got to be one of our main things also," Watson said. "We keep doing that, there's not going to be too many teams that can beat us."

As for the scrap late in the game, it came with 4:37 remaining and Nebraska holding a 14-point lead.

Coffey and Palmer got tangled up as Coffey drove into the lane, and the two engaged in some light shoving before being separated by teammates and officials.

The skirmish resulted in three technical fouls — one each for Palmer, Coffey and Tshimanga — and four free throws and possession for the Gophers. 

But Nebraska weathered that storm, got a stop on the ensuing possession, and got a three-pointer from Palmer on the other end to go up 17.

The victory set off a small court-storming from Nebraska's student section, the final burst from a raucous crowd that wore red and white T-shirts for "Stripe the Vault" night and roared their approval when Nebraska charged in front.

"Pinnacle, I never dreamed it could be like that. I've been in some places where it gets loud and obnoxious, but Pinnacle's got a really great vibe, and the guys fed off that, there's no doubt about it," Miles said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7436 or cbasnett@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraCB.

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