Nebraska (13-7, 3-6 Big Ten) fell again Saturday afternoon, this time to Ohio State (13-6, 3-5 Big Ten) 70-60 at home for just the second home loss of the year. It was bad. Maybe even worse than the final 10-point margin makes it seem. After a week of talking about being angry and needing to be tougher, Nebraska looked like it had its spirit broken in the second half.
Here are three takes from the game.
Something’s Wrong on Offense
Even after an 8-2 start to the game that featured a James Palmer Jr. triple, Pinnacle Bank Arena was off. A full house didn’t explode like it would have a few weeks ago. There was tension. Maybe an expectation the hot shooting wouldn’t last?
It didn’t. Ohio State immediately went on a 7-0 run.
Nebraska had a stretch where it didn’t score for nearly three minutes, a stretch where it missed six straight shots and a close to the half in which it scored two points in the last eight minutes. Then in the second half, there was a scoring drought of almost four minutes that featured three turnovers and another four-minute drought shortly after
For the game, the Huskers shot 36 percent from the field and were once again cold at the rim (11-for-20 on layups). They weren’t able to get to the free throw line (no attempts in the first half, 12 total) and shot better outside the arc than inside it.
Something is wrong, and I’m not really sure what it is. Because they weren’t bad shots for Nebraska Saturday. There were good looks, looks Nebraska made earlier in the season. A month ago, the Huskers were amongst the 50 best-shooting teams in the country by true shooting. Now we’re going on three straight games of sub-42 percent shooting.
Taking a step back from all the doom and gloom, I thought Palmer had one of his better games in a while. Shot selection and decision-making have been criticized of late but Palmer was as reserved as he’s been in some time. He shot when open and made the right pass when necessary. I counted only one look he’ll want back — a heat check triple after sinking a few jumpers on previous possessions. He wasn’t forcing the action until the Huskers fell down late and needed him to be the engine on offense.
Palmer finished with 19 points on 7-of-17 shooting (3-of-6 from 3) with only two turnovers. Glynn Watson Jr. gave NU 18 points on 5-of-10 shooting with some big buckets late to keep Nebraska within reasonable striking distance. There was just no help from anyone else.
Perhaps that falls on Miles and his system. Perhaps the players need to get in the gym and work on their jumpers more. Maybe it’s some combination of both. Whatever the issue is, it seems to change from game to game. This is one of the streakiest teams in basketball and there’s just no way of knowing what you’re going to get from them offensively on any given night.
Something’s got to change.
Have Some Heart on the Glass
Rebounding, a lot of times, is about effort and want-to. I’m going to use my guy, Russell Westbrook for a second. Most call him a stat-padder, but he’s typically one of the shorter guys on the floor and he’s in year three of averaging double-digit rebounds. He’s aggressive and attacks the glass. There’s effort. There’s heart. There’s passion.
There was none of that with Nebraska on Saturday.
The Huskers are not a great rebounding team (215th in rebounding rate) on the season. They play small and the roster just doesn’t feature a ton of size. Ohio State has a monster in the middle in the 270-pound Kaleb Wesson. Predicting the Huskers to win the rebounding battle today would have been a rather risky bet.
But to lose it 45-31? To look completely uninterested in boxing out or going after loose balls out of your area? Isaiah Roby had nine boards. Tanner Borchardt had eight. No one else had more than four. Ohio State got 14 offensive boards off 34 misses and 14 second-chance points out of them.
At one point in the second half, Nebraska actually got booed on its home court when four Huskers converged on a defensive rebound, everyone bumped into each other and the ball poked out to a Buckeye.
It was like the ball was greased because on the rare chance the Huskers got their hands on a rebound, they didn’t secure it and just tipped it away.
Borchardt played 25 minutes. Freshman Brady Heiman emerged off the bench. Miles tried to play big with lineups that featured Roby, Copeland and Heiman together. Nothing worked.
There’s not a schematic fix to this; Nebraska needs to want the ball more than the other guys.
The Biggest of Shots
Ohio State’s Luther Muhammad had 24 in the game and twice in the second half he beat the shot clock with a desperation triple. The second one could hang so heavy over this team.
Watson had converted a three-point play and drained a 3 from the wing on back-to-back possessions to get the lead down to seven with five to play. It looked like the defense was about to force a shot clock violation and the crowd was getting anxious to explode.
Then Muhammad hit. Call it the straw that broke the camel’s back. Nebraska never got close enough the rest of the way.
We could drone on about Miles’ future with the program after the loss but that conversation is probably best saved for later. Though Muhammad’s shot might impact that, too. It certainly impacts the Huskers’ NCAA Tournament résumé.
Nebraska looked like a lock early in the season with an 11-2 start. But the Huskers have lost five of their last seven, they lost a bad one on the road to Rutgers their last time out and just dropped a game inside a building that was supposed to be their fortress to a Buckeye team that had lost five straight.
The Huskers still have seven Quad 1 games left on the schedule — four at home, three on the road — but this slide is making it so they’re going to have to win a good deal of those just to ensure they don’t sneak into the tournament.
And, honestly, we might need to table tournament talk for a bit. This doesn’t look like a tournament team right now.
Muhammad’s shot was that big.
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.