LINCOLN, Neb. — Tuesday’s game against a Division II opponent in the University of Mary provided Tim Miles an opportunity to get his bench plenty of minutes after a disappointing showing in the season opener, and the Huskers responded with 30 bench points as Nebraska beat the Marauders 70-38 in front of 8,459 fans at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“After Sunday night, [Miles] kind of challenged the bench, because I think we had like nine points, or something bad,” freshman forward Isaiah Roby said. “He challenged us to step our game up tonight. We still have a lot to work on, obviously – execution-wise, just jelling as a team-wise. I think we stepped up a little bit more.”
After shooting just 2-of-16 and scoring just nine points, Nebraska’s bench consisting of all newcomers combined for 30 points on 10-of-24 shooting against the Marauders.
Freshman forward Jeriah Horne shot 2-of-5 from deep and finished with eight points and five rebounds. Freshman center Jordy Tshimanga put up eight points, eight rebounds, two blocks and two steals. Junior guard Evan Taylor chipped in four points, four rebounds and two assists. Freshman Isaiah Roby finished with seven points, two rebounds and a block in a team-high 24 minutes. Miles was able to mix and match lime-ups a little more to get the newcomers splitting time with the more experienced returners.
“It’s hard when all the new guys just play together,” Miles said. “It’s better when one or two are just playing with the top guys. I thought Jeriah Horne did a nice job in his minutes. I thought Roby had a better performance tonight, and I thought Evan Taylor did some good things, but [junior guard] Anton Gill looks like he’s pressing to me. We just need to get him relaxed, get him up to speed, and Jordy was better. Jordy and Isaiah Roby are going to impact the game, I don’t care, good or bad. When they go in, something’s happening, and like I said, it could be catastrophic or it could be really good. So, you know, those guys are important to us, that we have them in a good position to be successful.”
Anton Gill, the junior transfer from Louisville, continues to struggle after missing about two and a half months of practice prior to the season with a knee injury. He finished with three points on 1-of-5 shooting with four turnovers against Mary.
“I just want to put my arm around him and give him a big hug and say ‘it’s going to be all right; you’re a good player, just relax,’” Miles said. “Nothing succeeds success and until we can get him in a position where he feels good and comfortable and he’s having success, he’ll probably be a little uncomfortable. That’s going to happen; we just have to get him up to speed.”
The Huskers got a little trigger-happy in the first half when Mary started mixing in some zone defenses and 16 of their 27 first-half shot attempts came from behind the arc. Nebraska scored just one point in the final five minutes of the first half after jumping out to a 33-10 lead. Miles said the slow pace of the game baited the Huskers into trying to pick up the pace with quick shots.
“[Mary Coach Joe Kittell] mixed it up, he went two-two-one to man and two-two-one to zone, there was only about eight or nine possessions of the true zone,” Miles said. “And, you know, I thought we were pretty close to a point of possession there on them, so it was more the- just, I think, the length of possessions on offense really, you know, the fact that we guarded the clock the whole time. And then you come down and get a little jumpy, ‘Well, we’re only up 17 or 19,’ well, that’s a lot in a game like this.”
Tai Webster, the only senior on the team, laid the blame for the Huskers’ offensive struggles on himself and his backcourt mate Glynn Watson Jr.
“I guess it was just the first time we’ve seen [zone defense],” Webster said. “We don’t practice a lot of zone in our own practices because we’re primarily a man team, but I think it was just a lack on myself and [Glynn Watson Jr.] getting the guys organized and into plays. We came down in man plays and had to switch over, and it was really my fault, me personally and G as the point guard to communicate and get us in those sets.”
Even so, Miles praised Webster, who finished with 10 points, five rebounds and three assists in 20 minutes and played a bif part in holding Mary’s leading scorer, Damonta Henry, to six points on 2-of-6 shooting.
“I thought Tai really set the tone with his mentality,” Miles said. “He was locked in. Henry was a big key on the game plan for us; Tai locked him down. They tried to get some switches and put him in mismatches and Jack [McVeigh] did a good job. I thought all of our guys’ defensive mindset was excellent.”
Sophomore forward Michael Jacobson matched Webster for team-high honors with 10 points, four rebounds and two blocks in just 15 minutes. Eight of his points came in a two-and-a-half-minute spurt early in the second half with two and-ones and a mid-range jumper.
“We were struggling a little bit against zone and I think there were just some opportunities for myself to flash to the high post area and obviously it’s a little tougher for teams to rebound out of a zone so I was able to get my hands one a few balls,” Jacobson said.
Nebraska shot 50 percent from the field but just 8-of-23 (34.8 percent) from deep. However, they dominated their mismatched opponent on the glass with a 45-21 edge and held the Marauders to 28 percent from the field, including 3-of-18 from 3-point range. Nebraska shared the ball well with 16 assists but also turned it over 17 times.
“I thought we played pretty good defense the whole night, but we got real impatient on offense,” Miles said. “We went down and rushed some shots, took a whole bunch of three’s the first half, and then turned it over plenty in the second half. And that’s where, you know, regardless of opponent, whatever, there’s a way to play, and I thought we played solid defense, but then on the offensive end, I wasn’t happy with our patience.”
The game held a little extra meaning for Miles, as Mary is his alma mater and Kittell was a former assistant for Miles.
“I thought it was great for them,” Miles said. “It’s fun to see your alma mater out there and especially a guy like Joe. We’ve known each other since he was 17 or 18 years old and he informed me he was going to work for me. I couldn’t give him the slip. He was with us for four years I think at North Dakota State. It was good visibility for the university. I thought that they’re support of bringing a plane full of people down here showed their enthusiasm for it and it means a lot to me.”
The schedule gets a little bit tougher on Saturday as Louisiana Tech comes to town. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.