Five Huskers played between 38 and 58 minutes in Nebraska’s quadruple-overtime loss at North Carolina State on Wednesday.
As a result, Coach Fred Hoiberg gave his team the day off on Thursday after the Huskers didn’t arrive in Lincoln until close to 3 a.m. Instead of practice time, they went through what Hoiberg’s called “recovery sessions” and spent some time with the trainers and strength coach.
“They felt pretty good this morning,” Hoiberg said. “We still didn’t do a lot with them. We do a jump test with them to kind of see where they are as far as fatigue and we still have a number of guys that are testing lower than where they’ve been. But overall, I think we’re in a better place than even what I thought we would be just based on the loads. We had a couple guys upwards of 60 minutes in the game the other night.
“So it’s just about bouncing back, having a couple mental days. It’s tough, you go on the road and play a game in the Challenge and then come back a couple days then you’ve got to go back on the road and play an early game. So it’s going to be a tough task.
The marathon game took a physical toll on the team, but losing a game like that certainly can put a dent in a team’s mental well-being as well. The Huskers had the chance to put the game away in the second half after building a 14-point lead, and then they had chances to win the game at the end of regulation and each of the first three overtimes. They came up short each time, and now they have to move on as they hit the road once again.
“We’re doing OK,” Hoiberg said. “As I talked about today in the film session, the reality is we’re two possessions away from being 7-1 right now. We’re not, unfortunately. To me, you could talk all you want about the call at the end of the game, but if we rebound the ball better, if we get back in transition better, it doesn’t come down to that play. So we’re still right there. I still like our guys a lot. They’re coming in with the right mentality and it’s about going out there and hopefully winning one like this. That would have been a huge one to get the other night, but we’ve got to learn from it, put it behind us and come out ready for a battle tomorrow.”
After the game, Bryce McGowens tweeted that the game was on him. He missed a free throw with 2.5 seconds left in the second overtime that could have won the game, and then he left a contested layup short with less than 10 seconds left in the third overtime that would have given Nebraska the lead. Veteran big man Derrick Walker had a message for the talented freshman.
“I’ve talked to Bryce, especially just because during the game, he was like, ’It’s my fault,’” Walker said. “I’m like, ‘No, it’s not. We had a lead with I think four minutes to go, so that’s all on us. Your one individual shot doesn’t determine the outcome of this game.’ [Dereon] Seaborn, he missed a shot that could have put them over, so your one shot doesn’t determine the win and loss of our game. So I just told him ‘Keep your head and keep playing how you’ve been playing and don’t like don’t feel like this is on you, because we all contribute to this.’”
Now, the Huskers will head to Bloomington on short rest and short prep for an early Saturday tip against Indiana (6-1), who is coming off its own double-overtime loss to Syracuse.
“Their environment is unbelievable at Indiana,” Hoiberg said. “Mike Woodson’s doing a great job with that group and we’re really going to have to be mentally strong in order to have a chance to win this one.”
The first few lines of the scouting report for Indiana likely center around their All-Big Ten big man in Trayce Jackson-Davis. The 6-foot-9, 245-pound junior is averaging 22.0 points on 66.7% shooting, 7.6 free-throw attempts, 8.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists.
“They’re playing through him pretty much every possession and rightfully so,’ Hoiberg said. “He’s one of the best players in the country and he’s added to his game. He’s a load down there on the block, had 43 the other night against Marshall and had a huge game against the zone also in a triple-overtime game against Syracuse. He’s doing a little bit of everything right now. He’s going over both shoulders, he’s so quick with his spin. We have to be ready to guard, we can’t stand up expecting him to hold it. He’s going straight up. And the other thing is really doing a good job of is passing. They’ve got some good transfers in there that can really shoot the ball and he’s making great decisions on the block.”
Northwestern transfer Miller Kopp is shooting 38.5% from 3 and averaging 10.1 points while UT-Martin transfer Parker Stewart is shooting 47.4% from deep and adding 8.9 points per game.
Pitt transfer Xavier Johnson, a one-time Nebraska commit, is averaging 10.7 points and 4.6 assists. He’s 5-of-9 from 3 through seven games but does most of his work in the paint, putting an emphasis on an area the Huskers struggled mightily against the Wolfpack: on-ball defense.
“It’s obviously where we miss Trey [McGowens]; you’ve got your best on-ball defender missing right now,” Hoiberg said. “But other guys have to step up to the challenge. Too many times they rejected our ball screen coverage and you’ve got the big up helping on one side, and when they reject you it just completely tears apart your your defense and that happened too much as the game went on. Early on, we were really good in that area. Johnson has got a great crossover, he’s very shifty, really good at getting into the paint, so we’re going to have to do a better job containing that and hopefully keeping them on the perimeter.”
Defensively, Indiana is one of the best shot-blocking teams in the country, mostly because of Jackson-Davis who is swatting 3.7 shots per game by himself. The Wolfpack had 11 blocks against Nebraska on Wednesday including eight from starting center Ebenezer Dowuona.
“The other thing is shot selection at the rim,” Hoiberg said. “We got our shot blocked too much the other night. One of the top shot blockers in the country, that’s what fuels fast breaks. You can’t give them opportunities like that on the road. So we have to do a better job coming in under control, which we did on a lot of possessions where we had great looks, wide open 3s, but we also got our shot blocked at the rim too much the other night.”
Walker echoed Hoiberg’s thoughts, stressing the importance of shot selection at the rim.
“They’re going to jump, so pump-fake, get them in the air, make the right pass,” Walker said. “We’ve got a lot of kids on the 3-point line that can shoot the ball, so get down there, draw two, three defenders and find the open man. It’s a mind game, a game within the game, so as long as we’re playing the game within the game, then we should be all right.”
Hoiberg said he will take no further disciplinary action following the ejections of Lat Mayen, Eduardo Andre and Oleg Kojenets during the NC State game.
Tipoff on Saturday is set for 11 a.m. on Big Ten Network.
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.