After a solid start, Nebraska fell apart against a short-handed Rutgers team on Friday night in a 79-62 loss at Pinnacle Bank Arena. The loss drops Nebraska to 1-2 in Big Ten play at 6-8 overall.
Here are three thoughts on the game.
Adversity Knocked and Nebraska Ran and Hid
Adversity and dealing with it continues to be the theme of this season for Fred Hoiberg, and Friday’s game showed exactly why. After a solid start with a 15-10 lead including six assists on six buckets, the team completely fell apart.
First, shots stopped coming easy and the ones they got stopped falling. Nebraska went nearly eight minutes without a field goal as the Scarlet Knights ripped off an 18-1 run. The Huskers missed 12 straight field goals, and the misses seemed to get progressively worse and worse. At one point, Machine Burke Jr. shot a 3 off the corner of the backboard. Nebraska took 15 3s in the first half, which is a lot considering they only made three of them.
Even worse, once again Nebraska let is offensive woes affect it on the other end as the defensive effort was very poor. At one point during Nebraska’s drought from the field the Scarlet Knights had hit eight of their 10 shots. Guys were getting blown by way too easily and either the help never came or it did and the driver dumped it off to the big man for an easy two. Rutgers also got way too many deep post touches with little resistance.
Bad offense and bad defense is a bad combination if a team wants to win a game.
The Huskers showed some fight late in the first half, cutting the deficit to four with an 8-0 run, but Rutgers stretched it back to 13 at halftime and the Scarlet Knights blew the Huskers off the floor in the second half as it swelled to 20 before the second media timeout and Nebraska never really threatened any kind of a comeback.
Bigger Impact Needed from Green
I wrote in the basketball preview issue of Hail Varsity Magazine that this team would go as far as the junior college guards would take it this season.
Cam Mack has been up and down this season, but for the most part he’s found a way to impact almost every game in a variety of ways. He did it again on Friday with 11 points, six assists and five rebounds.
However, that hasn’t been the case for the other JUCO transfer, Jervay Green.
The 6-foot-3 combo-guard is averaging 9.2 points on 36.2% from the field, 30% from 3 and 55.2% from the free-throw line, 4.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.0 turnovers in 29.2 minutes per game this season. He’s already missed two games for a violation of team rules and is now coming off the bench because of that.
Against Rutgers, Green finished with six points on 2-of-8 shooting, three rebounds, two assists and one turnover in 24 minutes. He was a team-wort minus-25 including minus-22 in nine first-half minutes.
When Cam Mack went down after a collision with a Rutgers player late in the first half and had to go back to the locker room to get checked out, Green had a chance to assert himself and take control of the game. The Huskers were only down 30-24 at that point with less than four minutes to play. Instead, Rutgers closed the first half on an 11-4 run to undo all the work that Nebraska had done to get back into the game.
Making the optics look even worse, he got into it with a Rutgers player with eight minutes to play and Nebraska trailing by 17, earning a technical foul. Nebraska had shown the briefs signs of life with a 7-0 run that cut it from 22 to 15, but a Rutgers bucket followed by Green’s technical (which led to a five point possession including the free throws and a 3 on the ensuing possession) pushed it right back to 22. Ball game.
That’s not going to cut it. Green has to find a way to consistently make a positive impact or there are going to be a lot more games like this one. Big Ten play has only begun.
Nebraska couldn’t have asked for a better way to start the Big Ten schedule in earnest: a home game against a perennial Big Ten cellar-dweller who would be without their leading scorer and point guard, news the Scarlet Knights shared not too long before tipoff. Geo Baker is going to miss some time — starting with Friday’s game — with a thumb injury.
We saw in this game (as we’ve seen all season) how out-of-sorts Nebraska looked without Cam Mack on the floor. Rutgers had to go without Baker for the entire game, and yet it didn’t even look like the Scarlet Knights missed him at all. They shot 54% from the field and scored 54 points in the paint. Caleb McConnell, the guy who started in Baker’s place, had a career game with 20 points on 8-of-8 shooting.
Other guys stepped up, Rutgers out-worked Nebraska all game long and the Scarlet Knights dominated the game from the 12-minute mark onward. Nebraska had no answer for what Rutgers threw at it.
This was a winnable game and Nebraska didn’t even bother to really show up.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.