LINCOLN, Neb. — After a 3-0 start in conference play, Nebraska is back to square one thanks to Wednesday’s last-second loss against Ohio State that extended its losing streak to three and dropped the Huskers back to .500 in the Big Ten.
“They’re not encouraged; nobody is,” Coach Tim Miles said. “I don’t want to say they’re disappointed; more ticked off. You feel like you’re 3-0, you’re ahead of the game and now here you are, 0-0, and 1-2 at home. That’s not what we want to be about, but you are what your record is.”
The Huskers have had a chance in all three of their losses, but failed to make enough plays down the stretch to get over the hump and earn a victory. Nebraska is finding out the hard way how thin the line between winning and losing is in the Big ten this year.
“It’s tough,” Miles said. “You do a lot of things right, put yourself in a good position, you can’t get over the top. You go to Michigan, put yourself in a good position, can’t get stops. I thought we played better defense the other night, but just not enough. I thought our kids fought; we just have to come out and fight again because it’s just going to be this way whether it’s Rutgers or Michigan or Michigan State, this is kind of the way it’s going to be right now in the Big Ten.”
The Huskers got back to work in practice on Thursday and Friday to prepare for their next test, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (11-8, 0-6).
“I thought that yesterday the guys were emotionally down; there’s no doubt about it,” Miles said. “Everybody was kind of in that fog, but they practiced hard. I think today, we had a very good practice and it was a good prep for Rutgers. There are some mismatches out there. They’ve got a physicality we don’t have right now, so that will be a challenge. There were some teaching moments that I think will be good for our guys.”
Miles said Rutgers’ win-less conference record doesn’t mean Saturday’s game will be an easy win.
“They’re a good team,” Miles said. “They do a lot of things right. Coach [Steve] Pikiell is well-studied and well-accomplished when you look at his time with Jim Calhoun at UConn and you see him winning at Stony Brook, and then you see that physicality of a UConn team like Calhoun used to have right away in what he’s got. They just don’t have all the skill in the world right now but they’ve got guys who can get hot like Sanders and Mike Williams. Corey Sanders and Mike Williams can really hurt you. They’re one of the best rebounding teams in the conference and the country.”
Sanders, Rutgers’ sophomore point guard, leads a balanced attack featuring four players averaging between 10 and 12 points.
Rutgers is ninth in the country in total rebounds and fourth in offensive rebounds with seven players averaging 2.8 boards or more led by DeShawn Freeman’s 8.7 average. Miles said rebounding will be key in this game, and it won’t just come down to the bigs boxing out and grabbing the board.
“The fact that we’ve been out-rebounded in the second half of every game scares the heck out of me,” Miles said. “We can’t play volleyball with these guys. We can’t just let them get it up on the rim. There are a lot of things that go into that. One is transition defense, getting back, getting your defense set. Another one is just guarding the ball.”
Tip-off in Piscataway, New Jersey, is set for 11 a.m. on ESPNU, but Miles doesn’t expect the difficult travel schedule and early start to be an issue.
“I was a NAIA-II guy,” Miles said. “We’re shopping in a plane. They’re going to hand us water. It’s a good deal. We’ll be fine; those things are what you make of them.”
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.