Following another tough road trip, Fred Hoiberg and the Huskers are back at home this weekend for a rematch with Indiana (13-4, 3-3 Big Ten) on Saturday.
The first time the teams squared off back in December, Nebraska took the Hoosiers to overtime in Bloomington before falling 96-90. The next time out, Nebraska knocked off Purdue at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Senior guard Haanif Cheatham said the first game against Indiana was a big step forward for the team. The Huskers were short-handed and undersized but still gave the Hoosiers all they could handle.
“I think the thing that that game showed us is when we go out there and play together and play the right way, we have a chance to win every time we step on the floor,” Hoiberg said. “It’s a big, physical team, obviously. They lead the nation in free throws attempted and free throws made. They get a lot accomplished in the paint, so there are a lot of things they have on the roster that are difficult for us from a matchup standpoint.
“For us, where I thought we lost that game was in transition and on the glass. They got 20 offensive rebounds and converted a lot of those into points. I thought offensively, it was one of our better performances of the year. Part of that was we made shots and we did a good job of spacing the floor and making the right play and the ball was moving. We got a lot accomplished.”
Nebraska had four starters scored in double figures including two with more than 20 led by Dachon Burke Jr. with a season-high 25. The Huskers hit 12 3-pointers at a 37.5% clip and dished out 19 assists with just nine turnovers. Cam Mack had a double-double with 15 points and 10 assists.
Indiana freshman big man Trayce Jackson-Davis shook off a slow start to dominate after halftime, finishing with 25 points and 15 rebounds. Jackson-Davis has hit a rough stretch recently, however, failing to reach double figures in three of his last four games.
The Huskers have been struggling too, however. Nebraska dropped two straight, both on the road, and is siting at 7-10 in the season including 2-4 in conference play.
“The last two games, we’ve had one half of really good basketball and we have to become a complete basketball team we’re going to have a chance to win in this league,” Hoiberg said. “You just look at how difficult this conference is, I think 12 teams are in the top 40 of the NET. For us to find a way to get some of these wins, especially lately, we have to play a complete 40 minutes. We played two really good halves — we have to combine those from Ohio State and the second half against Northwestern, we would have had a chance to win those games. But you can’t come out and play 30 minutes, 35 minutes; it’s got to be a complete 40, especially for our team that has a very thin margin [for error].”
Hoiberg said they’ve continued to emphasize sustaining effort and maintaining attention to detail both on the practice court and in film sessions. Hoiberg said the Huskers have shown that playing the right way and sharing the ball on offense has led to better effort n defense, and the inverse is true as well.
“When we go in there and get our shot blocked by taking old shots in the lane or turn the ball over, that’s what leads to confidence the other way,” Hoiberg said. “They get playing downhill and they get a lot of confidence. Ohio State had not shot the ball well. [Andre] Wesson hit three [3-pointers], two of them I thought was good defense — contested shots on those — one of them was a missed rotation. But when teams get confidence with layups in transition, those shots are easier.”
One area that the Huskers have improved over the last couple of games is defensive rebounding. After giving up double-digit offensive rebounds in six straight games, Nebraska has surrendered just 15 in the last two games.
“I think that’s been a big emphasis for us from the jump,” Cheatham said. “We’re undersized a little bit, but I think we battle down there. Sometimes the ball doesn’t go our way but I still think we have the intensity and the mindset that we have to go out there and rebound if we want to win games.”
The Huskers are only 5-4 at home this season, but they’re 0-5 in true road games and both of their conference wins have come at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“We’re excited to get back home, especially with the students back in town now,” Hoiberg said. “We’ve had two great wins in this building in our league against two really quality opponents, I think top-20 in the NET ranking, to knock off Purdue and to knock off Iowa, those are two really good wins for our program and a lot of that had to do with he atmosphere here at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Our fans are phenomenal. They do a great job of getting us going. We talk about road mentality — you don’t have that crowd to get you back in it when things aren’t going well, you have to find a way to band together and it’s been too late the least two games. At home, we feel we have as good an atmosphere as any, not only in the Big Ten but in the country.”
The Huskers were without junior guard Jervay Green for the first meeting with the Hoosiers at it was the first of what proved to be a two-game suspension for a violation of teams rules. Hoiberg opted to bench Green for Nebraska’s games against Iowa and Northwestern in an effort to recapture what worked for the team while Green was suspended, but he returned to the court against Ohio State with the team struggling and provided a spark with 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting in 17 minutes.
Tipoff on Saturday is set for 6 p.m. on BTN with Drew Carter and Stephen Bardo 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.