Nebraska gave No. 9 Maryland absolutely all it could handle on the road Tuesday night.
A cold-shooting open from the Huskers probably had the home Terrapin crowd looking forward to smooth sailing, but the Huskers fought back and were a shot away from stealing a game at the very end.
Instead, the Huskers fell for the ninth straight time, a 72-70 loss to drop them to 7-17 on the season and 2-11 in Big Ten play.
Here are three thoughts on the game.
If it’s been said once, it’s been said 100 times this season: Nebraska’s ability to respond to adversity is something head coach Fred Hoiberg wants to see.
On the road, playing a top-10 opponent in the country, being down one starter—Dachon Burke Jr. and his 11 points per game—having another starter knicked up but gutting it out, having another starter replaced with the guy who has been his primary backup all season, and coming off a game in which you were thoroughly smacked around by your rival. THAT is adversity.
And Nebraska played. . . well? Not great, certainly, and not good enough to pull an upset on a really good Maryland team, but the Huskers weren’t still dazed and confused from the repeated punches Iowa threw at them last time out.
The shooting in the first half was what it was—few makes, early takes, some rushed—but for the most part I thought Nebraska got good looks from its offense.
Point guard Cam Mack was crisp with his passing, to the tune of eight assists and just three turnovers. He couldn’t buy a bucket but the intensity and aggressiveness was better. Wing Thorir Thorbjarnarson had 15 points. Stretch forward Matej Kavas finally found some offensive footing playing alongside Yvan Ouedraogo as the frontcourt pairing for the second unit. Guard Jervay Green, starting for Burke (flu), had his moments.
At the under-eight timeout in the first half, Nebraska was down just four points despite shooting 7-of-21 from the field. Maryland hit the Huskers with a flurry to close the half and go up 13. A 7-0 Nebraska run midway through the second half brought the margin back to five, and Nebraska got as close as two, but Maryland again countered. The Terps threw out a 3-2 zone and Nebraska continues to struggle with how to attack that. It disrupted the Husker offense just enough to give Maryland breathing room.
I’ll pose this question: can one really get too mad at Nebraska for being inconsistent? That’s about the only consistent part of this team this season.
That the Huskers looked to be laying on the mat, out cold, following the Iowa game and then went on the road and were a Jaylen Smith block with 0.7 seconds left in the game from potentially earning the first major upset of the Hoiberg era is worth a lot to this team at this juncture in its rebuild.
The Final Minute
With 41 seconds to play and Nebraska down seven points, Mack called for a Kevin Cross screen on the right wing. Mack drove baseline and brought his man as well as Smith, Cross’ defender, down with him.
At that point, Cross was 1-for-9 from the field and 0-for-5 from beyond the arc. Hoiberg elected to swap freshman center Yvan Ouedraogo for Cross in the starting lineup as the freshman forward from Arkansas has started to sizzle a little bit of late.
But this start was not a great one from Cross. He had four fouls, he missed shots, he missed reads and he was baited into a few things.
So, to be in the midst of a disappointing performance and to not only have the guts to take a triple that late in a game when you need points as badly as Nebraska did, but to step into it with zero hesitation and knock it down?
Cross is special. The bucket proved inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but not meaningless.
Now to the Huskers’ final possession. Anthony Cowan Jr. misses the front end of a one-and-one with a chance to put Maryland up two points, Mack gets the ball off the rebound and surveys what’s in front of him.
The sophomore point guard elected to beat his man off the dribble and attack the basket. Smith came over and blocked the shot and Maryland won.
I have no issues with the shot. Mack was aggressive and decisive. Could he have kicked it to an open shooter on the perimeter? Sure, but Nebraska only needed two points to win and the Huskers 7-of-33 from beyond the arc, so the math isn’t overwhelmingly against him on this. Maybe he gets to the free throw line, where he only needs one to tie. Maybe he makes his layup.
I also have no issues with Hoiberg keeping a timeout in his pocket and allowing his team to play the possession out. The commonly overlooked side of calling a timeout late to draw up a play? It lets the defense set up, too.
Nebraska wasn’t supposed to beat Maryland. Hoiberg has already built a culture within this team that emboldens his guys to not blink when they have a chance to topple someone. I like that.
What a warrior.
Cheatham hasn’t been the most consistent offensive weapon this season, but he brings it every single night. Tuesday night, he was battling a calf injury that limited him in practice during the run-up to the game.
He came out and led the Huskers with 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting. He added six rebounds. He scored 18 in the game’s final 20 minutes. From the 8:07 mark of the second half to the 2:22 mark, he scored 11 of Nebraska’s 13 points.
Gotta have respect for a guy in his final year going all out.
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.