Nebraska handed Northwestern its first Big Ten win of the season on Saturday after the Wildcats had lost their first four. After falling behind by double digits in the first half, a second-half rally came to an end with a questionable no-call on a 3-point attempt for the tie by Dachon Burke Jr.
However, Nebraska didn’t lose that game on that one play.
“Where I thought the game was lost in that first half is we had that seven-minute stretch where we scored five points,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “The first four were really good possessions in that seven minutes: we had two wide open 3s and we got to the free-throw line twice. Unfortunately, we only made one of the four free throws. After that it was three turnovers and we got our shot blocked three times which basically is a turnover, and they capitalized on those.
“I thought early on we had great looks, we had great execution and as the half went on and we started digging ourselves a little bit of a hole, that’s when we tried to go out and do it individually. We had two really bad shots—we had a step-back 3 and we had a dribble up 3 without a pass, and those things cost you. You’ve got to continue to trust and do the things that get you good looks offensively.”
Nebraska (79, 2-3 Big Ten) surrendered a 16-1 run to the Wildcats and fell behind 36-19, then went into the locker room down by 15 at half. A big part of the deficit was Northwestern shooting 8-of-14 from 3 after making nine total 3s in its previous two games.
“Generally when you go back and look at it, it’s never as good or as bad as you think it is,” Hoiberg said. “I thought defensively we were trying to keep it in there tight and were just a hair late on a couple of those closeouts early.”
Slow closeouts have been a problem at times this season, but overall Nebraska’s 3-point defense has been really good (it’s currently first in Big Ten play and 23rd nationally for the whole season). The Wildcats cooled off in the second half, however. After Miller Kopp hit a 3 on Northwestern’s first possession of the second half, the Wildcats shot 1-of-14 from deep the rest of the game.
“Second half, defensive intensity was really good, We held them to 26% from the field—39% overall—but that seven-minute stretch in that first half where we took quick shots or drove it in and tried to shoot it over length where we got our shot blocked and a couple sloppy turnovers, that’s where they took advantage and took control of the game,” Hoiberg reiterated.
Thorir Thorbjarnarson confirmed Hoiberg’s assessment of the team fracturing when things started to go wrong. That cannot continue, especially on the road, if Nebraska wants to find some success, especially on Tuesday night at Ohio State (11-5, 1-4 Big Ten).
“I think last game the first five minutes was good, but then we went on a scoring drought and kind of went away from what we wanted to do on offense,” Thorbjarnarson said. “We started to do maybe too much individually. But on the road it’s just you and the team. Husker fans travel well so there are always going to be some in the stands, but overall it’s going to be mostly on you so we have to stay together for the full 40 minutes and just grind it out.”
Nebraska has a quick turnaround with back-to-back road games, and Hoiberg said the Huskers can’t let that last loss carry over to Tuesday’s game.
“It’s going to be another physical battle against a really tough, strong team that’s going to come out hungry, there’s no doubt about that,” Hoiberg said. “We have to put what happened behind us. We’ve got to learn from it, the good and the bad that we did, and hopefully come out with a strong 40 minutes. If we’re going to have any chance of winning, we’re going to have to play a full, complete 40-minute game.”
Just like with Northwestern, the Huskers are catching the Buckeyes in the middle of a losing streak. After rising all the way to No. 2 in the AP and Coaches polls and to No. 1 for other outlets, the Buckeyes have lost four straight and five of their last eight.
“Obviously they were No. 1 in the country for a reason,” Hoiberg said. “It’s a big, strong, physical team and one of the reasons for their struggles is they played really good basketball teams. They are certainly more than capable on any night of going out and having a huge offensive game. [Kaleb] Wesson is one of the true issues in this league with what he possesses not only in the paint but he’s a 42% 3-point shooter and almost a 50% 3-point shooter at home. They shoot 51% as a team from the 3-point line at home. We have to be really good with our closeouts. Obviously we have to have a lot of help in the paint and then we have to rebound. They’re a very strong, physical team.”
Wesson, a 6-foot-9, 270-pound center, is leading Ohio State with 14.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. He can score in the post as well as step out on the perimeter and hit jumpers. Besides Wesson, the Buckeyes also have three others shooting over 40% from three and two more shooting better than 34%. Nebraska will likely use a similar strategy against Wesson that it did against Iowa’s center Luka Garza, packing the paint and swarming him every time he touched the ball, but the Huskers will have to execute even better because they can’t rely on Ohio State shooting as poorly as the Hawkeyes did.
The Buckeyes will be short-handed on Tuesday.
Washington is Ohio State’s second leading scorer (10.7 points per game, 43.9% from 3) while Muhammad (6.5 points per game, 34.6% from 3) has started 15 games this season.
Tuesday’s game in Columbus is set to tip off at 5:30 p.m. on FS1 with Brandon Gaudin and Jim Jackson on the call.
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.