Nebraska basketball desperately needs to get back in the win column, and in the words of Coach Tim Miles, “usually a win cures a lot of ails.”
The Huskers will try to get that win at home against a Maryland team that has dropped three of its last four. Senior post Tanner Borchardt said the process of regaining the confidence they need begins in practice.
Miles said he hasn’t necessarily seen a strong belief from his players in the games. As the team has continued to struggle, the collective attitude has gotten worse instead of better in the wake of Isaac Copeland Jr.’s injury, something that has shown itself in the team’s body language. That’s been something Miles has made an emphasis in practice. He said he just wants a hard-working team.
“The poster child is Tanner Borchardt,” Miles said. “You tell Tanner ‘I want to play until we run out of time.’ There’s a timeout at the end of the game — I called timeout, we were down seven, and I said ‘What’s the score?’ Right away two guys tell me what the score is. But at the beginning of the game, I had said ‘Listen, don’t pay attention to the score, just run out of time.’ Tanner says, ‘I have no idea.’ So I asked our older guys, the guys that have more experience, I said ‘When’s the last time you set career highs in points, rebounds and minutes?’ That’s what the right mentality does for you, though, married with an opportunity. And Tanner’s done that; I can’t be any more proud of him. I think that’s a great lesson for our entire team.”
Miles said he has seen better effort in the last couple of games with the Huskers winning the rebounding battle in both of them.
“We’ve been much better on that, and our defense hasn’t been awful,” Miles said. “Right now, there’s a lid on the bucket and we have to pry it off.”
Nebraska has failed to crack 70 points in six straight games, and it has shot under 37 percent form the field in its last three.
“We’re reinventing ourselves without Isaac and I’m way more concerned with what our rotation looks like, what can we run with this group, because we’re markedly smaller way more often and certainly that concerns me, especially with rebounding and some of those other things,” Miles said. “You have to scheme it up I think a little more on offense and defense. But we need a rhythm on offense. We did not help ourselves against Illinois. We played poorly in terms of shot selection. I didn’t get them in a good spot and we just played poorly. But I think we’ll bounce back.”
Shot selection has been a problem for a while, and the loss of one of Nebraska’s more efficient scorers in Copeland has only made it worse.
“What I would like to see is us attack the paint, either with a post touch and then kick it out or if we could move the ball around, move the defense and then be attacking off a ball screen or a drive and then this inside-out 3s,” Miles said. “I don’t like early possession 3s unless like you’re running ahead of the ball and Glynn [Watson Jr.] is catching and shooting in transition or what it might be. I don’t like deep 3s. Usually what you’d do is take the guy out and yell at him. But with this particular group, I think that it’s more of a case of ‘I’m trying to do too much.’ You’ve got to trust your teammates, right? Instead we take a bad shot trying to do too much out of our main guys. We need to get past that, but that’s part of our reinvention process.”
The fact that Nebraska hung with the Terrapins in their own gym back on Jan. 1 with Maryland pulling out a last-second 74-72 win could give the Huskers some confidence as the Terps visit Pinnacle Bank Arena on Wednesday.
“What’s going to help it is us playing well and winning a ball game, really,” Miles said. “You want a growth mindset. At the end of the day, you want to do well enough to get that injection of confidence. There are guys who have played very well against Maryland. We’ve had very good games with them, had success, lost games. I think we saw them win five in a row, four in a row after they beat us, and they’re a very talented team. Bruno Fernando is an NBA draft pick. Jalen Smith might be too and Anthony Cowan is an excellent guard. Those young kids are really good too. There’s nothing easy about beating them. Even though we’ve had success, we need to just stay with it and keep that team success going.”
Miles said his players saw that loss in College Park as a missed opportunity as the Huskers had every chance to win that game had they made one or two more plays.
“We thought we were a little loose in screen-and-roll defense and transition defense,” Miles said. “Cowan got away from us, we didn’t match to him and he hit a 3, comes off a ball screen and we don’t get to him. Jalen Smith out-runs us down the floor. We just felt like we had that opportunity, we just didn’t capitalize.”
Fernando, the 6-foot-10, 240-pound sophomore for the Terrapins had 18 points and 17 rebounds against the Huskers in the first go-around, though he also turned the ball over six times.
“I’m praying for a virus to come sweeping down into the hotel,” Miles joked. “No, I thought we did a good job against him and because the game was tight we didn’t double him as much. We might have to go after him a little harder this time.”
Borchardt, who had eight points and two rebounds in 19 minutes off the bench in that game said he is looking forward to the challenge of taking on Fernando as a starter.
After the Huskers lost at Illinois and their flight home was delayed by fog, the team caught the end of Indiana at then-No. 6 Michigan State in their hotel lobby. The Hoosiers snapped a seven-game losing streak with a 79-75 win in East Lansing, and they did it while losing senior forward Juwan Morgan after just 13 minutes of action.
“Indiana’s a tough team and it seems like, from the outside looking in, they went through the same thing that we’re going through now,” Borchardt said. “Just to see that they went in — Michigan State was at [No.] 6 or something like that — went in there and stopped their losing streak on the road in East Lansing, that’s a tough thing to do. Props to them, and I think we have an even better shot here since we’re at home. I know we’ve lost a couple at home now, but we just have to take advantage.”
Tip-off at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Wednesday is set for 6 p.m. on BTN. Kevin Kugler and Stephen Bardo will be 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.