The losing streak now stands at four. The slide is officially six in eight games. The Huskers, who began the season 11-2, dropped to 13-8 (3-7 Big Ten) Tuesday night with a 62-51 loss to No. 24 Wisconsin. It was the third straight home loss.
To say there are issues right now would be an understatement. The Huskers can’t get out of their own way. That’s the main takeaway from another loss. Here are three others.
Reach for the Fork
It might not be time to call it a season, but you should probably prepare for that conclusion.
Nebraska looked exactly how realists expected, a lost team missing a crucial piece of itself. Without Isaac Copeland, Nebraska experimented with different lineups and defensive coverages, but all the same problems it had with a healthy Copeland were still in play; the margin for error is just smaller. This might be what we get from here on out. The Badgers are a good team, yes, but Nebraska trailed in a home game for 30 minutes.
With Athletic Director Bill Moos in attendance (and everyone in the arena knowing his feelings toward head coach Tim Miles), the Huskers laid another egg. There was a point where a made free throw was met with cheers. Nebraska went eight minutes in the first half without hitting a shot from the field.
A strong first-half defense broke down in the second half. There were open shooters everywhere for Wisconsin late and star forward Ethan Happ only supplied 10 points in an 11-point win. Lacking depth and capable frontcourt players, the Huskers couldn’t afford to play in foul trouble. Forward Tanner Borchardt fouled out in 15 minutes.
There was promise to begin the season, but this thing might be over. The talk following a loss to Ohio State was about mentally fighting through adversity when it comes. Nebraska did well to do that for a moment early in the second half against Wisconsin, but the Badgers just kept coming and the Huskers wilted. It sucks for an injury to be a breaking point, but Nebraska looks broken.
I’ve got two negatives sandwiching one positive. Because, yes, there was a small positive to be had Tuesday night.
The seldom-used Icelander finally got some run and played like someone who knew his team needed a guy to step up. Because the Huskers did. Without Isaac Copeland, Nebraska was down a starter, a big-bodied rebounder and a 14-point scorer. For the Huskers to compensate, new faces were going to need to step up to the plate.
He closed the last seven minutes of the first half and Nebraska outscored the Badgers by seven points over that stretch. Considering they still trailed 28-21 at the break, that’s a significant run.
In the second half, Thor brought the same energy to the defensive end of the floor and to the glass. He played a total of 17 minutes and grabbed 10 rebounds.
That was a team-high.
The rest of Nebraska’s bench was particularly uninspiring. The Huskers were outscored by 13 points with sophomore wing Nana Akenten on the floor. Freshman forward Brady Heiman will do a good thing here and there but just doesn’t look ready (NU was outscored by 11 with him on the floor). Freshman wing Amir Harris was a nonfactor.
Nebraska might have found its new sixth man. Thorbjarnarson definitively earned a bigger role moving forward with his play. Shooting 1-for-4 from the field and only picking up one assist isn’t great, but he battled. Head coach Tim Miles said he wanted fighters. In the midst of this slide, he needs as many as he can get. Thorbjarnarson showed himself to be just that.
Now the only question left worth asking is: why on Earth wasn’t he playing earlier?
The over/under was set at 129. Given both teams’ defensive abilities, it seemed like hitting even that would be a stretch. But The Huskers opened with a season-low for points in a half (21) and finished with a season-low shooting percentage from the field (28 percent).
There’s just not enough scoring. Especially if one of the three stars are off. And forward Isaiah Roby was the only one on (18 points, nine boards, all-around fantastic play). Guard James Palmer Jr. had 14 points but took 19 shots to get there. Point guard Glynn Watson Jr. had five points on 10 shots. Both did nice things — Watson rebounded well (six) and Palmer looks like he’s taking up some leadership — but this is a team with so few reliable scoring options they just can’t afford bad shooting nights from the main scorers.
Nine guys played at least five minutes and only five players hit a shot from the field. Borchardt had one point that came from a split trip to the free throw line. Roby, Palmer, Watson and Thomas Allen Jr. were the only other scorers until a garbage-time bucket from Thorbjarnarson for his first two points.
Is it fair to put that kind of scoring burden on the main guys? No. But that’s the situation the Huskers find themselves in. Mostly because they aren’t helping themselves out in any way. For yet another game, the Huskers struggled to finish at the rim, shooting 9-for-24 on layups. They had 18 offensive rebounds and only seven second-chance points. How does that even happen?
Make it four straight games of just forgetting how to shoot. Late in the second half, Nebraska was dribbling the ball into the court while four other guys stood around. The offense might actually be regressing, which is a troubling sign.
Next up is Illinois on the road on Saturday. Tip is set for 1:15 p.m. CT.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.