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Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Huskers Hope Defense Can Slow Roadrunners’ Pace

December 20, 2017

After a heartbreaking 73-72 loss to Kansas at home on Saturday, the Huskers are back at work this week preparing for a pair of games in the span of three days, the first coming against UTSA on Wednesday.

After a rough start on Monday, Coach Tim Miles said the Huskers got some good reps in during Tuesday’s practice. He said he’s counting on the upperclassmen to take the lead as the team moves on from the Kansas loss.

“Heartbreak is part of it; sports hurt,” Miles said. “I thought that these guys have a good mindset. I think every goal we still have is attainable, so that’s what we’re looking forward to. You can’t let that game beat you twice.”

Senior guard Evan Taylor admitted the loss hurt quite a bit, but he said the team has rebounded well.

“It was tough, but I feel like we’ve been rallying around each other, staying positive, which is good,” Taylor said. “It’s definitely hard, but we’re taking it day-by-day … It’s been intense since we got back to practice because even though it’s not the same caliber game, it’s still a game that we have to win, and it’s at home in front of our fans. That’s what we want to do going into the break — not let Kansas beat us again, but learn from Kansas not to let it happen again.”

The loss capped a 1-3 stretch against Michigan State, Minnesota, Creighton and Kansas. The Spartans, Bluejays and Jayhawks are all currently ranked while the Golden Gophers fell out of the Top 25 after losing to the Huskers and Arkansas Razorbacks back-to-back. Despite not getting the wins they would have liked, Miles said he still learned something about his team.

“I think we have good resolve,” Miles said. “I think that even if we got down we didn’t panic. We hung in there and stuck to the game plan, so I think they showed good patience. To me, that also shows this innate belief in what we’re doing and themselves, and that’s going to be really important going forward.”

Taylor concurred with his coach.

“I just think we’re really resilient,” Taylor said. “We’re tougher. When obstacles hit us we don’t fold. Things happen, but I think our team is continuing to get stronger and learning each other and learning how to win tough games.”

The other bright spot to come out of the Kansas game was the play of freshman point guard Thomas Allen. The sharpshooter came off the bench with junior Glynn Watson Jr. in early foul trouble and put up a career-high 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting (3-of-4 from 3) in 14 minutes.

“No doubt it’s a shot in the arm confidence-wise for Thomas,” Miles said. “He’s a very good player. He can score in a hurry. You don’t get 50 by accident in a prep school game like he got. He’s a young guy that, as he’s getting better and playing with more pace and energy on defense, he’s starting to understand how hard you’ve got to play every possession. He’s always had the offensive skill; it’s some of those other things that the other guys can bring to the table that — you can’t be out there hurting your team in one form and then hoping it goes well in the other. I thought he was really good against Kansas.”

The UTSA Roadrunners may only be 7-5 on the season, but they do provide a unique challenge with their style of play. The Roadrunners are currently averaging 86.6 points with seven players putting up 8.5 or more points per game.

“I think they’re a pretty good team from what I’ve seen on film,” Taylor said. “They’ve got some guys that can really score the ball. I think they’re 25th in the whole country in scoring; that’s pretty impressive. It’s definitely going to be a challenge and we’re going to have to come in here and play a good game to win. I’m looking forward to it; I know our guys are.”

The Roadrunners are 11th in the country in 3-point attempts (353) and 10th in makes (129), shooting 36.5 percent from deep. They’re also top-50 nationally in free throws, rebounds, assists and steals.

“They play so free and easy on offense,” Miles said. “It’s just ‘any shot’s a good shot, as long as we get it up there in a hurry.’ That’s scary, right? They’ve got a lot of guys that can get it going. They shoot the 3 often; I think they make over 10 3s a game or right around there, so that’s going to be something that will really test our defensive principles, which we’ve got to stick with. You get sloppy on offense, they make you pay on the other end. If you get sloppy on defense, they’re going to drive it and kick it and find the open guy for a 3.”

Nebraska probably doesn’t need any reminders about what can happen to high-major teams who don’t take non-conference games in December seriously after losses to Gardner-Webb, Samford and Incarnate Word the last three years, but just in case Miles made sure to show his team the score of Indiana’s loss to Fort Wayne on Monday night.

“Fort Wayne 92, Indiana 72 came up in video immediately; 17 3s came up … It does matter, we’ve seen it on our own floor — if you give a team a shot of confidence and let them hang around, you could be in trouble,” Miles said. “We’re going to have to come out and play very strong defense tomorrow night.”

The second game this week will be against Delaware State, but Miles said he’s not even given them a thought until the Huskers make it past UTSA.

“We will not touch Delaware State until Thursday,” Miles said. “I haven’t even looked at them; I think it’s just bad karma. Sleep’s overrated; these raccoon eyes are getting better and better, so we’ll just work on them again Wednesday night.”

Tipoff at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Wednesday is set for 7 p.m. Wayne Randazzo and Shon Morris will have the call on BTN.

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