Nebraska (13-6, 3-5 Big Ten) was looking at a Quad 3 win if it went on the road and beat Rutgers Monday night. Not great for the resume, but it also means you absolutely cannot lose.
Here are three takeaways from the Huskers’ 76-69 loss to Rutgers (9-9, 2-6 Big Ten).
Go For a Run
When James Naismith created the beautiful game of basketball some 120 years ago, his dream scenario for the game was what took place inside The Rac on this cold Monday night in New Jersey. Inconsistent, bricky, hard-to-watch basketball.
There was no back-and-forth action, here. No sir. No riding the seesaw. This one was about as streaky as Chad sitting behind you at the Kansas City Chiefs game after pounding his sixth Natty Light.
The first half saw Rutgers go on a 10-2 run, which was followed by a 19-4 run by Nebraska, which was followed by a 15-0 run from Rutgers, which was followed by a 7-0 run by Nebraska. There wasn’t an ensuing run from Rutgers only because both teams were forced to go sit in the locker room for halftime. But make no mistake, Rutgers made up for lost time in the second half with a quick 8-0 run early on.
Nebraska’s usually-stout defense was okay. Rutgers’ defense was just fine, too. Good defense doesn’t get the credit for bad offense in this one. The streakiness largely stemmed from both team’s inability to consistently produce on the offensive end or find any kind of rhythm. There were a combined 43 personal fouls and 27 turnovers.
Rutgers couldn’t hold on to the basketball, with passes thrown through guys’ hands and some grade-school level travels. Nebraska couldn’t finish at the rim (for a second straight game), shooting 9-for-22 on layups. For the game, the Huskers were under a point per possession.
It should be only fitting Rutgers closed the game on a 9-2 run.
What Has Happened to James?
The shot selection is still awful.
The 3-point shooting is still hard to stomach.
The ability to beat his man off the dribble has abandoned him.
The other parts of his game aren’t enough right now to compensate for the dip in scoring.
For the eighth time in his last nine games, Palmer shot below 42 percent from the field. His 7-for-18 night against Rutgers was his fifth game under 40 percent during that stretch. And Palmer’s numbers have been fool’s gold over the last two games. He has points, but he has rather unimpactful points and too many empty possessions. Against the Scarlet Knights, there were too many possessions where Palmer dominated the ball and took contested jumpers.
So much of Palmer’s success last season was using his length and herky-jerky athleticism to attack the basket and either finish over guys or get to the free throw line. Now, he’s just settling for outside jumpers because he either can’t beat his guy off the dribble or won’t use a screen.
He missed four of his nine free throws and twice missed open looks at the rim. His defense has sagged severely — forward Isaac Copeland’s foul trouble was what it was because he kept having to help cover Palmer and kept getting caught in bad spots. His rebounding numbers (four total) dipped after back-to-back strong efforts on the boards and he wasn’t playmaking for teammates.
Copeland had a strong all-around night with 16 points (7-of-15) and eight boards and the Huskers elected to feed him the ball late. Which means their best player wasn’t touching the ball. Nebraska needs Palmer to get back to the dominating Palmer of last year.
Tried to be cute with the first take, tried to be real with the second take, won’t be reserved with the third take. This loss is completely unacceptable.
Nebraska was a team that entered the year with expectations beyond just making it to the NCAA Tournament. Some thought two or three wins. I thought the ceiling was a Sweet Sixteen berth. This loss throws all that out the window.
Now, the Huskers have lost four of their last six games and when they leave Pinnacle Bank Arena, they look like a shell of themselves. The defense wasn’t up to snuff yet again against a Rutgers team that ranked 291st in the country in offensive rating. (Two-hundred-ninety-one. There are 353 Division I programs.) The offense was horrid against an average defense. And Nebraska got out-rebounded 44-34 by a middle of the pack Big Ten rebounding squad.
Spare the “it’s hard to win in the Big Ten on the road” talk. While that’s true, Rutgers looked miserable in its own right for long stretches in the first half. Nebraska had a 31-18 lead and was in position to put its foot down on a bad team it should be beating 10 times out of 10. The Scarlet Knights had one Big Ten win in seven tries entering Monday night.
Instead, the Huskers gave up a 15-0 run that completely changed the complexion of the game.
No timeouts during that run? No offensive sets? No stops at all? Where was the leadership from a team that was just last week talking about being different from last year?
Rutgers had no business beating Nebraska. Yet the Huskers played passionless basketball for 40 minutes and now sit at 3-5 in conference play.
Everyone needs to be better. And everyone deserves blame. Head coach Tim Miles did nothing to help a sputtering team, with very few adjustments or counters to what Rutgers was doing. The bench provided nothing. The starters played undisciplined.
The inaccuracy at the rim, the lackadaisical approach at the free throw line (10-for-18 as a team), the rebounding, the stupid fouls that come after missing a shot and slapping at the ball; you would think the Huskers weren’t running with one of the most experienced teams in the Big Ten.
There are no more excuses. Nebraska needs to figure its issues out before it’s too late.
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.