After a disappointing second half against Penn State, Hoiberg challenged his team with a tough week of practice. The Huskers followed that up with their worst loss of the season, getting blown out at Iowa on Saturday with an even worse second half.
Hoiberg’s not piling on, though, as the Huskers continue to struggle. They’ve lost eight straight now and haven’t logged a win in over a month.
“This is not the time to pound them right now with the stretch they’re going through,” Hoiberg said. “Obviously we continue to teach and try to get better at things we’re struggling with right now which is consistency. Second-half starts have been a real issue for us. You look at that first half against Iowa, we did some things to hang around, especially after digging that 16-point hole to cut it to four, had a 3 go in and out to cut it to one, and then obviously missed a couple shots at the rim and they hit the big 3 to go up double figures at halftime.
“But then we’re just coming out of the gate a little bit sluggish for whatever reason to start that second half and we’re digging ourselves too big of a hole. It just takes so much energy to try to climb out of it.”
Through the few ups and many downs of this season, Thorir Thorbjarnarson said Hoiberg has been the same, even-keeled coach. He’s been in this situation before.
“He’s been handling it like the professional that he is,” Thorbjarnarson said. “Obviously it affects everyone when we’re losing, the coaches and players and all the staff, but the only thing we can do is keep going and that’s what he’s been preaching. No matter how hard it is, you just have to keep playing. We’re lucky to get an opportunity tomorrow against a top-10 team on the road.”
Thorbjarnarson said he’s grateful for the quick turnaround after the Iowa game so the Huskers can try to “make up for the last game.” An extra day or two might have served the Huskers well, however, as they’re in pretty rough shape.
Senior guard Haanif Cheatham left the Iowa game with a calf injury, and Hoiberg said it’s still pretty tender. He did not participate in practice the last two days; the most he was able to do was some jogging on Monday.
Hoiberg said Nebraska will have a workout at Maryland on Monday night and Cheatham will try to push himself a bit then and then he’ll go through a full day of treatment on Tuesday before the 7:30 p.m CT start.
Junior guard Dachon Burke Jr. was also home with the flu and he’s questionable to even make the trip. Hoiberg said Burke was trying to get in to see a doctor. Cheatham and Burke are Nebraska's second- and third-leading scorers.
“We just have to continue to go out there and grind through the tough times,” Hoiberg said. “You look at that 40-minute game against Iowa, we had eight minutes in the first half where we were as good defensively as we had been all year — deflections and activity and hands on balls, contesting shots, turning them over. We did a lot of good things in that stretch but it’s just not enough of that right now and that’s what we’re trying to build is to get that consistency, especially on the defensive end. When we have good energy on that end it leads to good offense for us, at least good opportunities where we’re getting shots at the rim or open 3s.”
Even at full strength Tuesday’s game was going to be a tough one for Nebraska (7-16, 2-10 Big Ten) as No. 9 Maryland (19-4, 9-3) is 13-0 at the XFINITY Center this season.
“You’ve got a team right now that is competing for a league championship, going on the road to play Maryland,” Hoiberg said. “It’s going to be a grind but we’ve got to go down there and play with great energy. That’s the big message right now is to go out and play as consistently as we can with as much energy as we can to hopefully give ourselves a chance.”
Hoiberg gave a one-word description of his impression of the Terps: “Scary.”
Senior point guard Anthony Cowan leads Maryland at 16.4 points and 4.4 assists per game. Sophomore forward Jalen Smith (6-foot-10, 225 pounds) is a double-double guy with 15.0 points, 10.1 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game while shooting 52.9% from the field including 39.7% from 3. Sophomore wing Aaron Wiggins is the third Terrapin in double figures at 10.6 points per game, though he’s only shooting 32% from 3 after hitting 41.3% from deep as a freshman.
Maryland’s struggled offensively this season but has been one of the best defensive teams in the Big Ten, holding opponents to 62.7 points per game and 39.3% shooting.
“Quite similar to Iowa, they really want to run in transition so it gives us a chance right away to play better against that,” Thorbjarnarson said. “We didn’t do a good enough job last game. That’s going to be one of the main challenges. They also have a really good big man so we have to pack the paint and be ready.”
Tipoff is set for 7:37 p.m. CT on BTN with Brandon Gaudin and Robbie Hummel 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.