CHICAGO — In front of the locker on the far right, leaning back in a black leather chair, Johnny Trueblood watched the video over again with a smile the size of the flooded Platte River.
He hit rewind. And there his coach went again, waving to the crowd, then tumbling face first onto the black plush carpet inside the tunnel.
“Oh my gosh!” Trueblood said, cackling.
The video made its rounds inside the locker room at the United Center, which smelled of sweat and felt like March. The reality of Nebraska’s 68-61 win over Rutgers slowly set in while the team joked of Tim Miles’ fall, planned cold tubs and snacked on Fruit Gushers.
“I don’t know what happened,” said junior Isaiah Roby, shaking his head.
It wasn’t pretty. Nebraska missed three layups and two dunks in the first 10 minutes, shot 20 percent from 3-point range and missed nine free throws. Miles couldn’t even walk off the court without slipping.
But somehow, with six scholarship players and two walk-ons, Nebraska knocked off Rutgers to advance in the Big Ten tournament for the first time since 2016.
“It shows that we’re gonna fight to the end,” James Palmer said.
Building off an improbable comeback win against Iowa, Nebraska used a little more March madness in Chicago. The Huskers trailed 51-48 with about five minutes left. Then after 35 minutes of poor play, everything finally clicked.
Nebraska turned Rutgers over four times, and Palmer took over. He hit a guarded 3-pointer on an isolation play to give the Huskers a 55-51 lead. He followed with two dunks off two Trueblood steals to seal the win, one of which came despite an intentional foul.
“We just kept fighting,” said Trueblood, who added he had an extra slice of inspiration Wednesday after watching a documentary on the 1983 North Carolina State title team Tuesday night.
Trueblood, a walk-on, has hardly played in his four years at Nebraska. Now he is a main part of this group of Huskers trying to salvage the disappointment a season once filled with hope. A group that, some say, is elongating Miles’ time at Nebraska.
“I just told the guys, you know, this is a big-boy business, and whatever will be will be,” Miles said. “I want to be the coach of Nebraska. I love Nebraska. The decision is out of my hands.”
But Miles — and Nebraska — aren’t done yet, thanks in part to 11 points with five assists from Glynn Watson and 10 points and six rebounds from Roby. Trueblood played 26 minutes, scored three points, and snagged four rebounds and four steals.
Nebraska next plays No. 5 seed Maryland on Thursday about 25 minutes after the conclusion of the Indiana-Ohio State game, which tips off at 11:30 a.m.
The two games this season against Maryland were watershed moments for Nebraska. In the first, a 74-72 loss in College Park, the Terrapins scored in the final seconds to knock off NU. On Feb. 6, Nebraska shot a Pinnacle Bank Arena-worst 21 percent from the floor and lost 60-45.
After taking down Rutgers, which started Nebraska’s tailspin with a win over NU in January, Tanner Borchardt said the Huskers are on a revenge tour.
“This can happen,” Borchardt said. “We won one. We might as well win five.”
Nebraska will likely be an underdog against the Terrapins. It was against Rutgers. But the belief inside NU’s locker room is as strong as it’s been in months.
Assistant Michael Lewis told the team this was what March is all about. Miles said he thinks there’s a game plan out there to knock off Maryland.
“A lot of people counted us out, and especially when we lost (Isaac) Copeland, went on a losing streak. The season hasn’t gone how we’ve expected it to,” Roby said. “People can give up on us. But we’re not going to give up. No matter if we have six guys, eight guys, five guys. That’s our mindset.”