The Huskers are all alone atop the Big Ten standings at 3-0 following Michigan State’s loss to Penn State on Saturday. However, to stay there, Nebraska is going to have to deal with a tough Northwestern squad on Sunday afternoon.
The Huskers are still somewhat in the process of recovering from Thursday’s double-overtime thriller against Iowa, but Coach Tim Miles said his team should be ready to go.
“Friday everybody was dead,” Miles said. “I thought today they were very focused, sharp; we got through practice well and looked like a good basketball team. If we can bring that kind of energy and focus tomorrow I think we’ll be in good shape.”
The Wildcats are 12-4 on the season but have dropped their last two games after winning their first game in the Big Ten. Northwestern has a dynamic pair of wings in junior Scottie Lindsay and sophomore Vic Law who are the team’s top two scorers at 15.3 points and 13.8 points per game respectively, but it’s the team’s point guard, junior Bryant McIntosh, who has Miles worried.
“McIntosh really controls their game,” Miles said. “He’s going to be their all-time assists leader if he already isn’t, and he controls the game for them. He sets up Lindsay, Law and those guys. Pardon’s back now; he gave us fits last year. But there’s no doubt all those guys can hurt you in a lot of different ways. It will be a good test for our guys.”
Dererk Pardon, the 6-foot-8 sophomore who lit up Nebraska for a career-high 28 points in his second game after Northwestern pulled his redshirt last season, missed the entire month of December with a hand injury but returned to put up nine points and eight rebounds in Northwestern’s last game.
The Huskers may be without freshman forward Isaiah Roby, who Miles said is “just OK” and practiced “a little bit” on Saturday. Miles said he is a game-time decision. If Roby can’t go, sophomore Jack McVeigh could hear his number called again after falling mostly out of the rotation since Big Ten play began.
“He practiced well today too, Jack did,” Miles said. “I have all the confidence in the world. It’s just hard when your role changes.”
Miles said he was watching film from a recent game and it looked to him like McVeigh wasn’t locked in, almost as if he had accepted his benching. Miles met with him and said you “can’t go there,” letting him know that the team needed him to be ready.
“Oddly enough, we have an injury and there you go,” Miles said.
Nebraska’s loss to Gardner-Webb seems like ages ago thanks to the 3-0 start in the Big Ten with all three games coming down to the wire.
“I feel like we’re learning how to win,” junior guard Evan Taylor said. “The other night, we really had to gut that one out. It wasn’t given to us, but that’s how your team builds character and trusts in each other, by learning how to win. You don’t just step on the court and win; you have to learn how to win. With a new team and a lot of young guys, I’m just grateful that we get that experience now and that we won those games.”
Taylor said the Huskers’ difficult nonconference schedule has started to pay off.
“I attribute all our success now and all our success going forward to our nonconference schedule,” Taylor said. “I believe it was number one and I just feel like those early lessons lead to later success.”
One player who is certainly learning how to win is freshman forward Jeriah Horne, who became a big part of the rotation when Big Ten play began after seeing his playing time fluctuate throughout the nonconference. Horne played a career-high 27 minutes against the Hawkeyes and finished with 12 points, but after shooting 8-of-14 from deep over the previous three games the freshman came out hunting for shots and finished 2-of-10 from 3-point range on Thursday. Miles said they coaches are still trying to help him learn what a good shot is and where they are going to come for Horne in this offense.
“When we watch film, we’re like, ‘That’s a great shot; that’s an awful shot,’” Miles said. “You don’t want to say like, ‘That’s not so good,’ you want to make it black or white. He’ll figure it out. I kind of like his bravado.”
Tip-off at Pinnacle Bank Arena is set for 1:15 p.m. and the game will be televised on BTN.