It was closer than it should have been late in the game, but Nebraska (12-6, 3-2 Big Ten) eeked out a 63-59 win over Wisconsin (9-9, 2-3 Big Ten) on Tuesday night.
Even though the final minutes felt stressful for all those inside Pinnacle Bank Arena, there were some strong signs from the Huskers over the course of the game. Here are three takeaways.
Copeland Strong Defensively
Ignore his 13 points. Disregard his six rebounds. Don’t pay too much attention to the modest +3 by his name. It’s not going to show up in his box score, but Isaac Copeland was terrific defensively for the Huskers against Wisconsin. Specifically, he was strong early against Wisconsin big man Ethan Happ.
On a possession early in the second half, Copeland brought a double, forced the ball away, then blocked a Happ drive when he got the ball back. Happ got the rebound with a dwindling shot clock and Copeland forced an air-balled jumper. That’s the kind of defense we’re talking about here.
Happ entered the game averaging almost 17 points and eight rebounds. He got his numbers late but Happ was seriously limited offensively early on. He had four on 2-of-5 shooting at half largely because of the Huskers’ effectiveness in sending a double-team his way.
That’s where Copeland comes in. He wasn’t the primary defender – that was usually Jordy Tshimanga or Isaiah Roby – but Copeland was the second defender, the double, every time Happ touched the ball near the basket. Copeland stayed down on ball fakes, forced the ball out of Happ’s hands and then quickly recovered to his man. There were a few hiccups in the rotation that yielded open jumpshots but those weren’t on Copeland.
The intensity and effectiveness faded late in the second half – Happ scored eight straight over a three-minute stretch to keep Wisconsin in it and hit 7-of-10 from the field – but the point remains. In order to beat the Badgers, the Huskers couldn’t let Happ beat them. They didn’t. Copeland’s a big reason why.
What if I told you the Huskers would get three points from guard Glynn Watson Jr. and still beat a solid defensive Wisconsin team? Well that’s what happened. Watson struggled with the shot but even faded at times. He only took six shots and missed both of his 3-point attempts.
The 3-point drought wasn’t exclusive to Watson, though. It represented a larger issue that plagued the Huskers offense for most of the evening.
Nebraska finished 2-of-14 from three-point range. Yes, that’s 14 percent. The guy shooting halfcourt shots for money before the game started had a better chance at making shots than the Huskers did from range Tuesday night. It was a good news, bad news kind of situation with Nebraska being able to generate open looks on several occasions, they just couldn’t hit.
The offense bogged down for stretches – like the last five minutes of the first half and again in the second half – but it wasn’t like they weren’t creating good looks.
To be fair, Wisconsin was just as bad from the 3-point line. The Badgers missed 14 of their 19 attempts. It was an old-school classic in that regard.
Nebraska grinded out the win, largely thanks to their defense, but if just a few of those triples had fallen, things would have felt a lot different. In a good way.
Tshimanga is Here to Stay
On Monday, head coach Tim Miles was asked if he had thought about switching up his starting five after not playing starting center Jordy Tshimanga a single minute in the second half against Purdue last Saturday. He said no.
Then he doubled down. He said he was “invested” in the big man that has struggled mightily this season. No lineup changes were imminent.
Tshimanga entered Tuesday’s tilt with Wisconsin shooting 36 percent on the season, but it was clear from the jump that the Husker offense was going to feature him early. Tshimanga had a series of designed post-ups to open the game and those continued in spurts throughout the evening.
The 6-foot-11 center responded with a season-high nine points and six rebounds before fouling out.
Tshimanga doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.
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.