3 Thoughts as Nebraska Opens Big Ten Play with a 96-90 Loss to Indiana
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

3 Thoughts as Nebraska Opens Big Ten Play with a 96-90 Loss to Indiana

December 14, 2019

Nebraska fought, and certainly made a now-10-1 Indiana team as nervous as possible at home, but just ran out of gas down the stretch. Big Ten play will open with a 96-90 overtime loss, dropping the Huskers to 4-6 on the year. 

Here are three thoughts from the game.

A Nice Bounce-Back

It didn’t look like Nebraska was giving up 3s just to give them up because they were falling asleep at the wheel or not closing out fast enough. Nebraska was preventing paint touches and suckering Indiana into less-than-ideal 3s. The Hoosiers, so far this year a poor shooting team from deep, shot 5-of-25 and only got one corner 3 (typically what you get on dribble-drive kick-outs).

Nebraska got its turnovers, too. Those gambles that weren’t paying off the last few games paid off Friday night. Nebraska got 21 points off 15 Indiana turnovers.

And I liked the NU offense. I liked it because Cam Mack had probably his best game since Nov. 15 (more on him in a minute). And because Thorir Thorbjarnarson is such a smart player and played a huge role (17 points 7-of-12 shooting). And because the offense didn’t just jack early-clock jumpers the way it did against Creighton.

The Huskers are still working on learning to be smart with their tempo. Mack has a lot to do with that. Creighton sped them up in an entirely different way and they didn’t respond well to it, pulling up for contested shots in poor spots. A handful of times in transition against the Hoosiers, Nebraska had a Princeton feel, with the ball-handler dribbling right to the corner shooter, only for that corner shooter to cut backdoor while his man overplayed the ball. Indiana did that often, Nebraska got that backdoor reverse layup often.

You hoped the second half against the Jays would provide some positives Nebraska could carry over into its next performance, and save for the first three minutes of the game (an 11-2 Indiana run), I thought Nebraska actually played one of its smarter, all-around cleaner games of the season. It fought an Indiana team with better depth and probably more talent.

This was an encouraging performance just taken as is. It’s made even more so on the heels of the last outing. Nebraska shouldn’t dwell too long on the final score.


Probably weird to feature a guy who isn’t Dachon Burke, right? Burke had six of Nebraska’s final eight points in regulation, including a triple with just over 30 seconds remaining to bring a four-point lead down to one and then a triple with one second left to tie the game and force overtime. He finished with a career-high 25 points on 9-of-15 shooting.

Fifteen points. Ten assists. Just four turnovers.

The Huskers starting point guard, a guy who has twice been benched in his first nine games, played every single minute against Indiana and though the numbers don’t jump off the page, I thought Mack had a lot to do with the overall offensive performance. Mack had a few of his turnovers in transition, something of a problem for him this year, he’s been prone to giving the ball away when his mind gets a step or two ahead of his body, but Mack was generally composed when he needed to be composed. He was aggressive when he needed to be aggressive. And he was an effective playmaker when plays needed to be made.

Look at Nebraska’s second-to-last possession in regulation: a Mack bucket with 13 seconds to play. He got a switch that brought IU freshman forward Trace Jackson-Davis onto him on the perimeter as the clock trickled down. Nebraska needed a 3 to tie, but Mack had Jackson-Davis on an uncomfortable island and the floor cleared out for him. He took his time, set up his drive right and then, under control, finished the lay-up to bring Nebraska within one point. It wasn’t a desperation shot for the tie, it was the right play to make.

On Nebraska’s next possession, Mack ran off a screen on the right wing again looking to drive and Indiana lost sight of Burke. Burke made a big shot, but was the opening created by Mack? The on-target, on-time pass was certainly Mack.

Indiana just had more depth and more size to win down the stretch. Mack shot 5-for-14 in the game but Nebraska is likely going to ask he, Burke and occasionally Haanif Cheatham (21 points) to be high-volume guys going forward, so don’t hold his percentages against him too much.

It’s been a bumpy start to his D1 basketball career, but this felt like a “get back on track” kind of showing for the potentially-special point guard.

Expect More of the Same

Four Huskers played more than 40 minutes. Freshman center Yvan Ouedraogo played 33. Kevin Cross and Matej Kavas off the bench played 12 and 11. That’s it. Nebraska, late in the overtime period, was absolutely gassed. The suspension of Jervay Green and the three would-be-rotation guys sitting out because of transfer restrictions means Nebraska doesn’t have many other options. Kind of felt like late last year in that regard. It’s going to be hard to keep that up and win.

Then there’s the glass. Indiana out-rebounded Nebraska 54-31, grabbed 19 offensive rebounds and scored 26 second-chance points off those extra possessions.

Even before the Green suspension, Nebraska was a team short on depth and short on size in the frontcourt. This is probably going to be what Big Ten play holds for Nebraska in Hoiberg’s first time through. A bunch of tough games, with the majority probably going the other direction.

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