LINCOLN, Neb. — The Huskers are looking to to put disappointing losses at Michigan State and to Illinois behind them in order to move forward and close out the season.
“I’m just excited going into this game,” sophomore forward Ed Morrow Jr. said. “We have to come out prepared and ready. We struggled the last two games and I felt like we carried over the Michigan State game into the Illinois game. We’ve had some time off so I’m just excited with how we’ve been practicing the last couple days.”
Next up for the Huskers is a trip to Minnesota to take on the resurgent Golden Gophers (22-7, 10-6), one of the most improved teams in the country.
“Minnesota kind of was on the ledge last year, looking over the depths of death in the Big Ten, had their worst season ever,” Coach Tim Miles said. “You look at some of those guys like Nate Mason, Dupree McBrayer, Jordan Murphy have been through the tough times and that’s really made them solid, and then they added talent; one of the best freshmen out there, Amir Coffey, is really good. Then you’ve got Reggie Lynch who probably changes the game defensively as much as anybody in the league. He’s a bigger, stronger defensive force than you get out of Ethan Happ or even Mike Watkins. He is probably the No. 1 game-changer that we’ve got defensively in our league.”
Lynch is a 6-foot-10, 257-pound junior who blocked 11 shots in Minnesota’s last outing and is leading the conference at 3.4 blocks per game.
“How well he pursues the ball, you have to understand what it’s like to go against a shot-blocker and certain guys do that better than others, but they’re clear on what’s expected, there’s no doubt about it,” Miles said. “It’s something you have to deal with and game-plan for, no doubt.”
One way to deal with a shot-blocker is to spread the floor and make it more difficult for him to plant himself at the rim, and that’s what the Huskers have been working on in practice this week according to Morrow.
“Just trying to spread out the floor a little bit, trying to get the ball up the floor faster, passing it through the half court rather than dribbling it through to create some fast breaks,” Morrow said. “We’re long and athletic but we’re not really using it.”
The Gophers are red-hot, riding a seven-game winning streak into Thursday’s game, but Miles said that does not change how the Huskers have to approach the game.
“They’ve won seven in a row, so we’ve got them right where we want them, right?” Miles said. “We have to follow our game-plan offensively and defensively and just stick to it, minimize errors, eliminate losing, all the same stuff. It really doesn’t change.”
The Gophers have a tough eight-man rotation featuring five players averaging 10 or more points led by sophomore point guard Nate Mason at 15.1 points and 5.3 assists per game. Sophomore wing Amir Coffey also chips in 12.2 points per game.
“Nate Mason is a very good play-maker,” Miles said. “Akeem Springs can really get going from the outside. Then that front line of Murphy, Lynch, [Bakary] Konate, [Eric] Curry, are all really tough, big and physical.”
Tip-off for Thursday’s game in Minneapolis is set for 6 p.m. on ESPN with Clay Mattock and Sean Harrington on the call.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.