Considering the Huskers hadn’t played in 10 days and had just returned to the practice floor as a group two days prior, Nebraska’s game against No. 11 Wisconsin got off to a pretty solid start.
Ten minutes in, the Huskers led 21-20. Five different players had scored. Of their eight buckets, four were assisted (including a couple of triples) and the other four were unassisted buckets in the paint. The Huskers couldn’t sustain that level of play for the last 30, however, and Nebraska dropped its seventh straight game, 73-65.
After the quality start, the teamwork and offensive flow broke down as the Huskers went ice-cold, missing 24 of their next 28 shots.
“Really just being static, you can’t be static,” Bryce McGowens said. “When we move the ball, great things happen. So we’ve just got to play team ball.”
Wisconsin took advantage of Nebraska’s offensive dysfunction, turning a one-point deficit into an 18-point lead over 19:47 of game time spanning the first and second halves. The Huskers shot 4-of-28 from the field and 5-of-6 from the free-throw line and turned the ball over five times during that stretch.
“We’ve got to find a way to continue to do things that made us successful because we had a stretch like that,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We did a really good job early in that game, building the lead that we did. But again, when you go 3-for-24 in a stretch against a team that’s top-10, the co-leaders in our league, it’s tough to win. What it did show was we can go toe-to-toe with a team like that. Take away that stretch and we’re right there with potentially a chance to win. But we didn’t do it and we didn’t get it done. At the end of the day, that’s the bottom line.”
Though the Huskers did a good job of limiting Wisconsin to seven second-chance points, the Huskers still gave up 13 offensive rebounds including nine in the first half, and even when teams don’t turn those chances into points at a high rate, it’s still draining mentally and physically when you have to defend for another 20 seconds after getting a stop. The offense breaking down and surrendering offensive rebounds are recurring themes for the Huskers, who fell to 6-14 overall and 0-9 in Big Ten play on Thursday, and they’re running out of time to fix those issues as they approach the midway point of league play.
“Really we’ve just got to come in every day and want to change it,” McGowens said. “We’ve just got to bring it. Everybody’s got to be locked in, from stretching to three-man weave, five-man weave; we’ve just got to be locked in the whole practice, everybody buying in and hopefully we get some success out of that.”
The bright spot from the last two losses has been the return of Trey McGowens. After coming off the bench and playing 21 minutes in his return from a broken foot against Indiana, he returned to the starting lineup on Thursday and played 28 minutes. Though he only recorded four points, three rebounds and two assists, he played a big part in limiting Wisconsin star Johnny Davis to zero points in the first half and 13 overall on 5-of-12 from the field and 3-of-5 from the line. Still, Hoiberg is being cautious not to push McGowens too far coming off the injury that sidelined him for two months.
“He won’t do anything on the floor tomorrow,” Hoiberg said about the elder McGowens. “We’re going to give him a rest day. We had his minutes at about 25; I think he played 26, is what he ended up getting. But we were very closely monitoring his workload, where he was with the catapult system that he had on. He’s a guy that really has had four practices with everything that he’s dealt with, with the injury and then what happened last week. He’s a warrior. He’s going out there and you hold Johnny Davis to zero points in the first half, that tells you everything you need to know about Trey as a competitor. He means so much to us, to our team, and he’s certainly going to help us on Saturday with the size that we were exposed with at Rutgers last game.”
“Exposed” is a good word to describe what Rutgers did to Nebraska in the first meeting in Piscataway. The Scarlet Knights did whatever they wanted all afternoon en route to a 93-65 beatdown on Jan. 8. Rutgers’ star wing, Ron Harper Jr., went off for 29 points and the Scarlet Knights dished out 23 assists on 35 points while shooting 58.3% from the field including 10-of-18 from deep.
Rutgers has gone 2-3 since beating Nebraska and is sitting at 11-8 including 5-4 in Big Ten play. The Scarlet Knights are a mediocre 3-point shooting team (143rd in the country at 34.3%) and sub-par both inside the arc (291st at 46.4%) and at the free-throw line (261st at 68.4%), which makes Nebraska’s defensive collapse all the more confusing and concerning.
Rutgers is solid defensively, ranking 52nd in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom.com with solid block, steal and defensive rebounding rates led by sophomore big man Clifford Omoruyi (10.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game). Trey McGowens will likely spend time on both Harper (16.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game while shooting 43.8% from 3) and super senior guard Geo Baker (12.2 points and 4.1 assists per game, 34.8% from deep) after watching round one from the bench.
Rutgers is 1-6 away from home this season, and Saturday’s rematch will take place at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Tipoff is set for 5:30 p.m. CT on Big Ten Network with Kevin Kugler and Andy Katz 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.