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After a slow start, Hucker’s Palmer has started living up to the hype

December 27, 2018

LINCOLN — James Palmer might be the last person in Nebraska to tell you how good he is.

Palmer is not a big talker. At least not in front of cameras and recorders. He’s loud on the court, screaming at teammates. He’s a joker at practice.

In the public eye, though, he’s quiet and lets his play do all the talking. So let’s let his numbers talk.

After a slow start through the first five games, when Palmer shot 20 percent from 3-point range and scored 16 points per game, the senior from Upper Marlboro, Maryland, has lived up to his preseason All-Big Ten hype the past seven games.

Since Nebraska’s loss to Texas Tech in Kansas City, Palmer is averaging 22 points per game, shooting 43 percent from the floor and 48 percent from 3-point range. He has gotten to the foul line 54 times in seven games, making 48 (89 percent).

He has been particularly deadly in Nebraska’s last three wins. He scored 30 against Creighton, 29 against Oklahoma State and 23 Saturday in the win over Cal State Fullerton. And in those three wins, he was 25 for 28 from the foul line, 13 for 17 from 3-point range (76 percent) and made 51 percent of his shots.

“What I see in James is a guy that works so hard on his game. I’m surprised that he did start slow,” coach Tim Miles said.

There was an adjustment period at the beginning of the season for Palmer, thanks in part to teams being more aware of him. He didn’t play much in his two seasons at Miami, and when he did, he wasn’t very productive.

He surprised a lot of teams a year ago. But he is no longer a secret, and teams baited Palmer into tough 3-pointers and reckless drives that turned into charge calls. Palmer scored eight points against Missouri State and played a season-low 23 minutes because of two early charging fouls.

But he changed his game in recent weeks.

“I met with him at one time. We just looked at different offensive plays,” Miles said. “Changing direction, changing gears, not just head down, drive to the basket.”

That change has led to fewer fouls, more minutes and more points. Palmer was on the floor for 26 minutes on average in the first five games. He’s up to 34 in the last seven.

His efficiency from 2-point range has actually declined recently.

Because he struggled so much from the 3-point line, most of Palmer’s points came from inside the arc in the first part of the season. He shot 60 percent from 2 in the first five games.

That’s down to 39 percent, 24 for 61, since the Texas Tech game. But he is also getting fouled at a much higher rate in the lane. He averages 7.7 free throws in the past seven games, producing 6.8 points per game.

“He’s got such fluidity and he gets fouled so well,” Miles said.

Palmer is also picking his 3-point shots better, Miles said. He’s taking 1.3 fewer 3-pointers per game, and making 1.4 more.

Palmer doesn’t have a lot to say about his recent success. He doesn’t think he’s taking any different shots. He’s just knocking them down now.

Though he is playing at a high level, Miles doesn’t want to lean too heavily on him. Isaac Copeland could score 20 like Palmer, Miles said. As could Glynn Watson or Isaiah Roby or Thomas Allen.

But as Big Ten play approaches, there’s no doubt Nebraska will need Palmer to continue to excel.

“I’m proud of James because he’s very coachable,” Miles said. “I can be really hard on guys, and he just hangs in there with it and takes it into practice.”

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