Nebraska got a chance to regroup at home and get back in the win column against Penn State on Thursday, but now the Huskers are hitting the road again for a trip to Bloomington.
Nebraska (12-4, 2-3 Big Ten) will face Indiana at Assembly Hall on Monday evening with the Hoosiers coming off back-to-back losses at Michigan last Sunday and at Maryland on Friday.
The Huskers lost their first three Big Ten road games (against Minnesota, Maryland and Iowa) before knocking off the Nittany Lions at hime. Now the trick is to carry over that home cooking (the Huskers are riding a school-record 20-game home winning streak) to the road.
“It’s an important win, but I think that you don’t live and die by one game alone because if you do that in this league I think you’ll let a game maybe beat you twice or if you’re such a champ that you think that you won this game and it’s so important, than you won’t be ready for the next game,” Coach Tim Miles said. “I think our guys are locked in, dialed in and ready for Indiana. I think that’s the most important part. We know what we can do. We’re great at Pinnacle Bank Arena. We’ve been OK on the road, we just haven’t won enough on the road.”
The Hoosiers are 12-4 and 3-2 in Big Ten play in Coach Archie Miller’s second year in Bloomington and Indiana’s two preseason All-Big Ten picks have lived up to the hype so far.
“The way I look at it, Indiana’s got one first-team all-league player and a lottery pick, and they’re not the same person,” Miles said. “When you get outside of that, they still have a bunch of real talented guys. Certainly a challenge to win at Assembly Hall, but we’ve been fortunate to do it a few times. You have to go in there and have a real warrior’s mentality. With Coach Archie Miller, you’ve got to really guard their actions. They’re good in transition. They run clever stuff and they’re rock-solid defensively. I watched that Maryland game which is a really good game and they looked great early, and Maryland can wear you out like anybody. We expect a tough ball game.”
The all-league player Miles is referring to is senior forward Juwan Morgan who is averaging 16.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.3 blocks on a 67.3 true shooting percentage, second in the Big Ten behind Maryland dunking extraordinaire Bruno Fernando. The 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward is shooting nearly 70 percent inside the arc as well as 41 percent from 3 on 2.4 attempts per game.
“They’re a mid-sized team and his ability to play in the post and his ability now to make 3s, I’ve been very impressed,” Miles said. “He was on that MOKAN team years ago [with former Husker Michael Jacobson] and we watched him play a lot — he has really developed his game a great deal.”
The lottery pick is freshman Romeo Langford, a 6-foot-6, 215-pound phenom. He’s fourth in the conference in scoring behind Nebraska’s James Palmer Jr. at 18.8 points per game. He’s struggled from 3 at 25.4 percent (though he was 4-of-8 from deep in Indiana’s last two games) but is converting 62.1 percent of his attempts inside the arc and attempting nearly seven free throws per game while shooting 73.9 percent. He’s also averaging 5.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists/
“I think he might be the best [freshman we’ve seen], honestly,” Miles said. “When you look at some of these guys — and the Big Ten has had the Player of the Year how many times since we’ve been in the league even? He’s just really impressive. One, he makes things look so easy and effortless and he’s such a good finisher. He hasn’t shot the 3 that well but seeing him in high school and stuff, you know he can. That’s just an adjustment probably. He’s very impressive.”
Beyond those two, Indiana’s next-leading scorer is junior guard Devonte Green at 8.8 points and 3.4 assists per game. Justin Smith, a 6-foot-7, 227-pound sophomore who was rated as a 4-star recruit coming out of high school is chipping in 8.5 points and 4.1 rebounds in 23.5 minutes per game. Aljami Durham is one of Indiana’s top shooters, knocking down 42.2 percent of his 3s on three attempts per game and averaging 8.3 points.
Freshman point guard Rob Phinisee started Indiana’s first 12 games before an injury sidelined him for three games, and he came off the bench for the Hoosiers in his return against Maryland. Junior De’Ron Davis (6-foot-10, 255 pounds) and St. Mary’s graduate transfer Evan Fitzner (6-foot-10, 225 pounds) provide depth in the frontcourt, though Davis is much more of an interior presence while Fitzner is primarily a perimeter shooter.
For the Huskers, freshman guard Amir Harris made his return to the court against Penn State after missing a month with mono while sophomore wing Nana Akenten has recovered from the illness that kept him out of practice leading up to the Penn State game.
“They practiced much better,” Miles said. “I think Nana’s probably close to 100 percent and Amir is getting closer and that’s helpful because we need that depth. Those guys can help us.”
Harris played four minutes against the Nittany Lions, grabbing a board, splitting a pair of free throws, dishing out an assists and committing a foul.
“He lost 20-whatever pounds and he’s still 10 pounds light,” Miles said. “It’s just getting your strength and you have a fever of over 100 degrees for how many days. He was ill. He’s just got to get that strength and the timing and everything back.”
Against Penn State, Miles gave the bench a total of 13 minutes of playing time, all in the first half. Miles rode his starters for the entire second half. Heavy minutes has been the norm for the Huskers in close games this season.
“We really don’t have a hell of a lot of choice,” Miles said when asked if he was worried about the wear and tear on his starters. “When you look at the [Penn State] game, there were some subs we could have made but knowing the conditions of that game, especially with those sick guys, it is what it is. Now they’ll get a chance to go out and play and perform well and hopefully they do. Nana and Amir both helped us at Clemson and at other times on the road, so we’re looking forward to getting them back in action.”
Monday will be the first trip to Assembly Hall for most of Nebraska’s team as the core consists primarily of transfers and underclassmen. Nebraska only played Indiana at Pinnacle Bank Arena last season.
“This is my first time being there and I’m looking forward to the challenge,” senior James Palmer Jr. said. “I know it might be a good crowd so I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
Tipoff in Bloomington is set for 5:30 p.m. CST on Monday on FS1. Joe Davis and Bill Raftery will be on the call.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.