Last season, Nebraska coupled one of the worst 3-point defenses in the country with one of the worst 3-point shooting teams. The result was a 12-19 season.
Opponents shot a blistering 39.9 percent from deep last season, slotting the Huskers at 348th out of 351 Division I teams. Nebraska, on the other hand, shot 32 percent, good for 307th in the country.
Coach Tim Miles said heading into the year that shooting the 3 and defending the 3 were primary areas of emphasis and that this team had the players to improve on both sides of the ball.
Defensively, only one team — Central Florida — has shot better than 40 percent from deep against the Huskers, and that was on just nine attempts. Conversely, four teams have shot worse than 30 percent against the Huskers. Overall, opponents have shot 31.5 percent, which is just inside the top-100 nationally.
On the other side of the floor, things looked bleak early on. Nebraska shot under 32 percent in four of its first five games. The only positive sign was an 8-of-20 performance against North Dakota.
However, in their last four games, the Huskers have shot 45.7 percent from 3-point range overall, shooting better than 43 percent in all four. However, it hasn’t been Glynn Watson Jr., who led the Huskers at 39.7 percent from deep last season, nor has it been transfer James Palmer Jr., nor has it been true freshman Thomas Allen, who shot nearly 50 percent from deep at Brewster Academy last year, that is buoying that percentage.
No, it has been a pair of senior guards that are leading the way for the Huskers.
Evan Taylor, the senior who made stops at Samford and Odessa College before finishing up his career in Lincoln, has hit nine of his 12 3-point attempts so far this season. As a junior last season, the 6-foot-5 guard shot just 6-of-25 from deep. During his sophomore season at Odessa, he shot 10-of-55. How did Taylor become one of the most accurate shooters in college basketball?
“He went to work,” Miles said. “He was just in the gym all the time. You have to credit Evan for gaining that confidence through hard work, and then trusting that process. [Graduate managers] Wes Eikmeier and Dorian Green have done a nice job with him too encouraging him along. When he gets his footwork right and he’s got the right shot, he makes them.”
Taylor’s offseason shooting partner was Anton Gill, who isn’t far off Taylor’s pace on much higher volume. Gill leads the team with 18 3s in seven games after missing the first two of the season and is hitting at a 56.3 percent clip, which ranks him eighth in the country among qualifiers.
After an injury-plagued first season at Nebraska for the Louisville transfer, which saw him play just 12 games and shoot 8-of-29 from deep, Gill has played a key role off the bench for the Huskers this season. Through it all, however, Gill said his confidence never wavered.
“The same way it’s always been,” Gill said. “Much hasn’t really changed. Sill come in, get your work in and be ready to play. I’m just happy to be back in the swing of things.”
Teammates are happy to have him back “in the swing of things” as well. Gill is fourth on the team at 10.6 points per game.
“He’s playing as well as anybody right now,” Taylor said. “For me personally, I’m happy to see him because I know how much he’s been through and last year not being able to play because he’s injured. I really felt for him. Just to see him healthy and playing well, it makes me happy because I know how much he can help our team and I know he’s going to continue to help us.”
As far as Gill himself, he’s encouraged by his success but isn’t satisfied.
“It is rewarding,” Gill said. “Something’s finally starting to go my way a bit. But I have a lot more; I’m still working and as a team we have a lot more too.”
Gill’s volume and efficient shooting has been huge for the Huskers as Nebraska’s next three players in terms of 3-point attempts — Watson, Palmer and Isaac Copeland — are shooting 31.4, 30 and 25 percent, respectively.
The bigger problem, however, is that Nebraska is shooting 42.2 percent inside the arc. In Nebraska’s three losses (by an average of 20.3 points), the Huskers have shot 10-of-31 (32.2 percent), 15-of-40 (37.5 percent) and 7-of-40 (17.5 percent) on 2-point field goals.
Converting in the paint won’t be any easier on Tuesday night as the Huskers host No. 14 Minnesota (8-1) featuring the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in center Reggie Lynch, who is blocking nearly five shots per game this season to lead the nation. The Golden Gophers are holding opponents to 39.9 percent inside the arc, good for fifth in the country.
However, Minnesota is susceptible on the perimeter as opponents have shot 38.8 percent from 3 against the Huskers which has the Huskers ranked in the bottom 50 in the nation. Gill and Taylor will play an important role if Nebraska hopes to have a better showing against the Gophers than they did against the No. 3 Michigan State Spartans.
Tip-off at the Devaney Center is set for 8:07 p.m. on BTN with Kevin Kugler and Shon Morris on the call. Fans will find T-Shirts provided by Adidas waiting for them on their seats as the Huskers are holding “Stripe the Vault Night.”
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.