The 2018-19 Huskers made their debut in front of the home fans on Thursday night and took down Division II Wayne State 75-40 in an exhibition game at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
The Huskers weren’t exactly firing on all cylinders offensively, but they held the Wildcats to 23.5 percent shooting and dominated the glass to the tune of a 56-35 edge. Coach Tim Miles wasn’t thrilled with his team’s rebounding, however.
“We are who we are, we know this,” Miles said. “It was good to play everybody and it was good to get a win. I think that that's really important. I think we need more physicality, rebound the ball, better flow and rhythm on offense. We ran a lot of motion, and I'm not sure that that was that effective. We didn't run that many sets or plays … Coach [Jeff] Kaminsky does a very good job at Wayne State. I like him, he's building that thing little by little.
“But for us, we need to shoot the 3, stop the 3 and we need to rebound, and if we can do those things we'll be good. And tonight I don't think we rebounded all that well in terms of the physicality of eliminating our opponent. And I know we didn't shoot well.”
All 12 eligible Huskers saw the court and all 12 found the scoring column led by junior forward Isaiah Roby with 12 points, 10 rebounds and two steals. Senior guard James Palmer Jr. was the only other player in the game who reached double figures with 10 points but he shot 4-of-12 from the field and 0-5 from downtown. Miles said he’s not worried about his All-Big Ten performer, however, as the Huskers kept things fairly vanilla offensively on Thursday night.
“We have to figure out where we’re putting him and we’ll integrate him more often as we run plays and sets,” Miles said. “Tonight was strictly motion, so sometimes it feels like he gets caught in the corner and just hanging around and he gets the ball later in the possession, and he’s trying to make a play. We’ll get James going and James will get himself going too.”
As a team, the Huskers shot 4-of-26 from the 3-point line including 2-of-17 from the starting five of Roby, Palmer, Glynn Watson Jr., Isaac Copeland Jr. and Thomas Allen Jr.
Watson, Nebraska’s senior point guard, recorded nine points, five assists and zero turnovers in just under 20 minutes on the court and finished a game-high plus-21. Allen, the sophomore sharpshooter making his first start at Nebraska, only knocked down one of his four triples but did a little of everything else with nine points, seven rebounds and five assists.
“It’s been a long road since June, just working all that time, and now it’s here so now I’ve got to seize the moment,” Allen said about cracking the starting five.
Brady Heiman, the 6-foot-11 freshman from Springfield, led the Huskers off the bench with nine points, eight rebounds (including five offensive) and two blocks. Sophomore wing Nana Akenten added eight points including back-to-back possessions during the second half where he knocked down a 3 then converted a 3-point play.
Nebraska got off to a slow start, needing nearly two full minutes to get on the board. Wayne State answered the Huskers’ first bucket — a layup by Roby off a pass from Watson — with a 3-pointer by Blair native Vance Janssen, a senior point guard for the Wildcats.
However, the Huskers took the lead back with a pair of free throws by Copeland on the next possession and slowly stretched out the lead from then on. Nebraska was up 14-9 at the under-12 media timeout then came out of the huddle with a 3 by Watson and a layup by Copeland to take its first double-digit lead and it never dipped back into single figures the rest of the way.
Nebraska led 39-21 at halftime despite 2-of-16 shooting from deep. Roby had eight and eight in just under 13 minutes of action.
Nebraska used a 9-1 run to stretch the lead out to 27 before the under-12 timeout. Wayne State answered with a 3-pointer then both teams went ice cold as more than three minutes went by with two total points scored.
Nebraska used a 10-2 run to stretch the lead to 29 at 66-37 before a 3-pointer for Wayne State by Glenwood (Iowa) product Nate Mohr. The Huskers held the Wildcats scoreless over the last six minutes.
Nebraska's 4-of-26 shooting performance comes after a 9-of-26 outing against Iowa State in the team’s closed scrimmage and an unofficial 3-of-26 in the team’s 16-minute open scrimmage at the 2018 Husker Hoops Preview.
“Yeah, you can't sit there and look at 4 in 26 and say we're fine,” Miles said. “Isaac Copeland shot really well [last year], did not shoot well [tonight]. We didn't do much for them, but at the same time I think we will shoot better. We're not like a 40 percent 3-point shooting team, but we need to be mid-30s.”
Nebraska will return to the court at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Tuesday for the season-opener against Mississippi Valley State. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.
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.