Another tournament, another one-and-done for the No. 5 seed Huskers, who lost 66-59 to NIT No. 4 seed Mississippi State (23-11, 9-9 SEC).
At no point in the game did Nebraska (22-11, 13-5 Big Ten) look fully engaged. Now, its season is over. Here are a few takeaways from the evening.
The Huskers have been idle for a hot minute.
Wednesday night’s game marked just the third game for Nebraska since Feb. 25. Head coach Tim Miles touched on that before his team left for Starkville, and he was justifiably worried. Nebraska looked lethargic, it looked rusty, it looked like it had lost a step.
The Huskers shot 35 percent from the field, 27 percent from beyond the (extended) 3-point line. It got bludgeoned on the boards, 47-30. It got beat up inside to begin the game and the bench was a virtual non-factor.
Forward Isaac Copeland fouled out with 12 points on 13 shots. Isaiah Roby, Copeland’s frontcourt running mate, fouled out in 24 minutes. Guard James Palmer Jr. had another stat-sheet stuffing game with 13 points, six rebounds, five assists, a pair of blocks and a steal, but this one was more empty calories than anything else. Palmer took 15 shots.
Mississippi State guard Lamar Peters dissected a loose Nebraska defense right from the opening tip. He had 11 assists at halftime. He finished with 14 and no points against just two turnovers. Peters managed the offense for a Bulldogs team that also got stagnant at times — they only shot 42 percent from the floor, not exactly barn-burning. It was a stark contrast to the team on the other side of the floor; he had more dimes than Nebraska’s entire team.
This is just going to be a hard one to swallow.
Not Like This
I’m sure Starkvegas is great and all, but Nebraska’s season didn’t deserve this.
Let’s ignore the actual quality of the game for a minute. Nebraska was picked to finish 13th in the Big Ten, it finished fourth. Twenty-two wins isn’t a program record, but it’s close, and it’s still the most since the 1990-91 season. The 13 conference wins, however, are a program record.
Last season the Huskers finished dead last in the conference in 3-point defense. This season they finished first. Nebraska lost pieces and grew tighter. Palmer has been a marvel. They played in must-win games for what seemed like the last two months of the season and they won almost all of them.
And this is how it ends?
Unceremoniously in Mississippi in front of maybe a couple thousand fans?
That can't be right.
The Huskers felt slapped in the face by the selection committee not only leaving them out of the NCAA Tournament but making them go play on the road to begin the NIT. They have every right to be upset with the latter.
After all the good, all the excitement, all the promise, it’s just over. And the crew announcing the game on ESPN couldn’t even be bothered to learn the names of the Husker starters (seldom-used bench guys are another story, but consistently misidentifying two key starters is disrespectful).
Sure, there’s next season, but this felt wrong.
So, about next season. What can this team be?
They said they were ready to take some anger out on Mississippi State and then sleep-walked through parts of the game. They had a chance to take a bad situation, a disappointment, and turn it into a springboard for next season. Instead, they'll fly home on what might be a very quiet plane thinking about what could have been.
Maybe everyone comes back. Nebraska will lose major rotation guards Evan Taylor and Anton Gill as well as reserve center Duby Okeke to graduation, and that will be a blow, but for the most part, everyone could come back if they so choose.
Palmer will be back, Copeland will be back, guard Glynn Watson Jr. will be back, Roby will be another year older. Signee Xavier Johnson will be in town. There’s reason for optimism. Just didn’t see much of it Wednesday night.
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.