In a game only a mother could love, Nebraska pulled out a a 59-50 win over Northwestern at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Saturday night despite shooting 32.8 percent from the field. The Huskers (15-11, 5-10) have now won two in a row while Northwestern (12-13, 3-11) has dropped six straight.
Here are three things to take away from the game.
The Enigmatic Isaiah Roby
I just can’t figure Isaiah Roby out. He’s capable of doing so many things on a basketball court, but the lowlights are facepalm-inducing and even when he plays well he often struggles with efficiency.
Roby put up a monster stat-line against the Wildcats, finishing with 19 points, a career-high 16 rebounds (five on the offensive end), a season-high-tying five blocks, two assists and two steals. He also shot 7-of-19 from the field thanks to a 4-of-11 night inside the arc.
Roby came out like a man possessed, making plays all over the floor. He scored seven quick points with a baseline drive and layup, a buzzer-beating 3 off the dribble and a seal for the finish. Tim Miles shook his lineups up liberally, moving Roby all over the court from the four to the three to the five, and Roby took advantage of the mismatches created.
Then he proceeded to miss his last four shots and the front end of the bonus to finish the half with seven points on 3-of-8 shooting. He air-mailed a short face-up jumper, threw up a wild shot in the lane through a small bump, got blocked by a guard at the rim and missed a late-clock deep 3 just before the halftime buzzer.
As he has so many times this season, defenders left him open at the perimeter time after time and he hesitated every time.
It seems like Tim Miles’ halftime speech to Roby was simply “shoot the dang ball,” and the message apparently sunk in. Roby showed no hesitation in the second half, firing up four 3s in the first eight minutes and hitting two of them.
He opened the half with another missed bunny, but showed his quick second jump by beating everyone off the floor to tip in his own miss. He hit one nice face-up fadeaway jumper, but air-balled another later on. He had a couple silly turnovers. But he also played 38 minutes without committing a foul (the first time since the sixth game of his sophomore year he finished with no fouls).
Roby was the best player on the floor on Saturday night. If he can find a way to cut out the missed bunnies and be a little more confident in his perimeter shot, he will look a lot more like the NBA Draft prospect many expected him to be heading into this season.
Can’t Be a One-Man Show
Roby had a huge game, but he didn’t get much help for a long time. In fact, Roby scored Nebraska’s first 10 points of the second half. Amir Harris threw down a transition dunk (off an assist by Roby) at the 3:04 mark of the first half. A Husker not named Roby didn’t score again until the 11:49 mark of the second half when Tanner Borchardt ran the floor, recovered a loose ball and laid it in.
With Roby shouldering the entire offense, Northwestern managed to hang around. Borchardt’s layup put Nebraska up 40-36. The Wildcats pulled within one a couple of times until Nebraska delivered the knockout blow with an 11-0 run that featured buckets by three different Huskers, none of them named Roby.
After going scoreless for the first eight minutes, the other Huskers combined for 21 points in the final 12 and that was enough to pull away from the offensively-challenged Wildcats.
After breakout performances by James Palmer Jr. and Glynn Watson Jr. against Minnesota, the duo fell right back into their slump, combining for 25 points on 8-of-29 shooting. Palmer was particularly atrocious, shooting 3-of-17 from the field (0-of-6 from 3) and 7-of-9 from the foul line for his 13 points, though he also dished out six assists with just one turnover. Thomas Allen jr. only mustered nine points on 3-of-9 shooting with three turnovers.
The supporting cast woke up just in time to get a win against Northwestern, but those numbers aren’t going to result in wins against anyone remaining on Nebraska’s schedule. One guy isn’t going to be enough.
Ride or Die, But Why?
For at least the second time this season, Miles rode his starting five for the full 20 minutes in the second half. He didn’t substitute one time after halftime. It’s hard to criticize too much when it worked and Nebraska won the game, but the move left me scratching my head.
For the second straight game, Miles went with a three-man bench of Amir Harris, Thorir Thorbjarnarson and Brady Heiman. I thought that trio gave the team good minutes in the first half.
Harris had a dunk, a board and a steal and played some tough defense on Northwestern star Vic Law in seven minutes, and Nebraska was plus-4 with him out there. Thorbjarnarson scored on a reverse layup but missed his other shot and added a board, an assist, a steal and a turnover in six minutes. Nebraska was plus-2 with him on the floor. Heiman missed his only shot but also blocked a Wildcat in impressive fashion in four minutes, and Nebraska was plus-2 in that stretch.
All three of those guys rode the bench for the whole second half despite the fact that the four starters not named Roby were struggling mightily to get anything going offensively. I’m just curious about what those bench players need to do to earn Miles’ trust.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.