Nebraska’s stay in New York City ended and its wait for selection Sunday began on Friday afternoon as the No. 4 seed Huskers fell to No. 5 Michigan 77-58 in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament at Madison Square Garden.
The Huskers finish 22-10 with just one quadrant one win — against Michigan on Jan. 18. Nebraska will have to head back to Lincoln and wait nine days to learn whether or not it did enough to secure a NCAA Tournament berth.
For those trumping the “eye test” as a strong argument in Nebraska’s favor, the loss certainly won’t leave a positive image in the minds of the selection committee.
"I don't think there's any question the guys kind of felt a burden of expectation that way," Miles said. "You could see and you could see in the reaction afterwards. The other thing with the double bye, you just don't get in the facility. And that advantage of playing that day before, you have seen that with even Wisconsin and Michigan State, I think, there's a true advantage there.
"But not being in the facility I don't love that but I don't know what our options are either … So I do think when we arrived we arrived a little tight. But they've also done some excellent things this year, and I don't think that one game takes away all that hard work over months and months."
After holding Michigan to 52 points in their first meeting, Nebraska’s defense broke down time and time again throughout the game as the Wolverines got plenty of open looks from the perimeter and finished 11-of-23 from deep.
"Well, credit Michigan," Coach Tim Miles said. "I thought they played terrific. Their offensive pace really got us on our heels early. And when they make 11 3-pointers, you're in big trouble because then your defense gets too spread out, and it's hard to get them under control. And we've done a good job all year of taking away 3s
but we didn't today."
Nebraska shot a brutal 30.2 percent from the field including 4-of-16 from 3-point range. The free-throw line was the only place Nebraska had any success, shooting 22-of-27. The Huskers finished with just five assists to 10 turnovers.
Isaiah Roby led the Huskers with 16 points on 4-of-9 from the field and 7-of-8 from the line with seven rebounds and five blocks. James Palmer Jr. matched him with 16 points on 3-of-8 from the field and 9-of-11 from the charity stripe. Glynn Watson Jr. added 10 points but shot just 4-of-12 from the field and dished out two assists with two turnovers.
Isaac Copeland, Anton Gill, Evan Taylor and Thomas Allen combined for 16 points on 5-of-23 from the field.
"They did a good job zoning up, getting guys into the mid-line and then getting back out to shooters," Miles said. "And that got us standing around and overdribbling. So when you overdribble you stand around. And I'm begging guys, cut, cut, on the ball screen stuff, to force them to have to pick up a cutter and then maybe we can skip and drive or closeout, shoot an open shot from there.
"I thought they did a good job getting us — your goal in defense is to stand the ball up and stand the offense up, get them standing still as much as you can. I thought they did a good job, all of them, with active hands, handling ball screens, just defeating screens, guarding the ball one-on-one in a really good manner."
Nebraska got off to a quick start, taking a 9-5 lead by the first media timeout with buckets by four different players.
However, the scoring struggles that have plagued Nebraska all season long reared their ugly head as Michigan ripped off an 11-0 run to take the lead. Evan Taylor broke the run with a free-throw, but Nebraska’s drought from the field continued as Nebraska missed 11 straight shots before freshman Thomas Allen knocked down a 15-foot jumper to make it 18-12 Michigan midway through the half.
Allen’s shot didn’t take the lid off the basket, however, as Nebraska missed its next eight shots and Michigan expanded its lead to 33-15.
Palmer finally snapped the cold spell with a three-point play, becoming the first Husker with more than one field goal at the 2:35 mark of the first half. That bucket sparked a 9-1 run to end the first half as Nebraska pulled within 10 at 34-24 at halftime.
After hitting four of their first five shots, the Huskers made just three of their last 25 to shoot 23.3 percent from the field including 1-of-6 from 3. Nebraska’s one saving grace was the free-throw line where the Huskers shot 9-of-11 compared to 2-of-4 for Michigan.
Palmer led the Huskers with 10 points including 5-of-5 from the foul line.
After shooting 4-of-18 from 3 overall against Nebraska in their first meeting, the Wolverines connected on 6-of-13 from deep in the first half. Junior big man Moritz Wagner, Michigan’s leading scorer who managed just two points in the first game, had 12 in the first 20 minutes.
Nebraska opened the second half with an alley-oop from Watson to Roby, but the Huskers came up empty on their next five possessions with three turnovers and two missed 3s. Nebraska settled down and scored on four of its next five possessions to cut the deficit to seven at 40-33 with about 14 minutes to play.
However, a pair of 3s from the right corner (one by Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and one by Duncan Robinson), a layup by Wagner and a scoop shot high off the glass by Zavier Simpson pushed it back to 15 with a 10-2 run.
Nebraska got no closer than 12 the rest of the game as the Wolverines had an answer every time Nebraska tried to mount a run. A 3-pointer by Watson (just Nebraska’s second of the game) cut it to 13, but Michigan answered with back-to-back 3s of their own to push it to 19 and essentially deliver the knock-out blow with six minutes to play.
Nebraska went on a 7-0 run after that to give themselves a tiny sliver of hope, but Michigan slammed the door shut with six straight and cruised to victory from there.
Wagner finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds. Abdur-Rahkman led the way with 21 points including a perfect 5-of-5 from deep. Senior Duncan Robinson poured in 16 points off the bench and sophomore Zavier Simpson added 12 points and six assists.
The Wolverines move on to take on the top-seeded Spartans of Michigan State in the semifinals. Nebraska will return home to wait for section Sunday on March 11.
"I think we're going to have to just start working hard again and just get ready for whatever postseason we're in, hopefully it's the NCAA," Roby said. "I think we should be in there, too."
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.