What causes a team to lose basketball games on the road? Sometimes it’s as simple as taking the path of least resistance.
“Sometimes it’s just shooting the 3, it’s not making your free throws, it’s not playing very good defense, it’s not fouling,” head coach Tim Miles said Monday night after practice.
Every single one of those things happened Sunday against Illinois in a 72-66 loss that might end up doing a little more damage to the Huskers (20-9, 11-5 Big Ten) than just snapping what was a six-game winning streak. Nebraska took 26 3s in the game, often times settling rather than creating open, in-rhythm looks. It missed eight free throws, four in the final seven minutes of the game.
“It was a very difficult night for us but sometimes you’ve got to hit reset,” Miles said. “All we watched was the last five-and-a-half minutes where we had a small lead.
“I could beat them up and talk about that first half defense or we could talk some 2-3 zone … but at the end of the day, I think the teachable moment is, ‘Why do you win or lose a close game?’”
So now the Huskers sit one day removed from a loss to the last-place team in the conference and one day ahead of another contest with a red-hot Indiana team they’ve yet to see this season. Nebraska is 7-0 in one-day prep games (or less) this season, but Hoosier head coach Archie Miller is in his first year at the helm and there’s not much in the way of head-to-head film to look at.
James Palmer Jr., the Huskers’ leading scorer at almost 18 points a night, said he doesn’t know much about this year’s Hoosiers, but he’s anxious to get back on the court.
“You always want to play games, even if it’s back-to-back,” he said. “We know it’s a quick turnaround, another good team in Indiana coming in our house tomorrow so we’ve got to move on. We lost one, can’t let it get to two.”
Miles said the team as a whole was disappointed with their play Sunday, guard Glynn Watson Jr. more so than anyone else (he finished with just three points on 1-for-9 shooting), and there’s a feeling of wanting to get a bad taste out of their mouths.
“You don’t want to sit there and feel sorry for yourself,” he said. “While the wounds are still fresh, let’s get out there and battle.”
Tuesday night’s matchup with the Hoosiers will certainly be a battle, too. In conference play, Indiana ranks in the top half of the conference in scoring defense, opponent shooting percentage and turnovers forced. They also have a trio Miles likes. If there’s a positive in the one-day prep, it’s that Indiana reminds Miles a little bit of a Maryland team the Huskers beat just last week.
“Maryland and them are a little bit similar in terms of some of their actions and how they play, [both] difficult to guard,” Miles said. “Juwan Morgan is a really good player, terrific player, Robert Johnson is playing his best basketball and then [Devonte] Green, their point guard. I mean, those three guys can really hurt you.”
Morgan, the Hoosiers star forward, is averaging just under 17 points and seven rebounds a night this season. Johnson, a senior guard, is averaging a career-high in scoring (13.9). In his last six, Green is putting up almost 13 points and five assists while shooting 53 percent from the floor.
“You talk about the job that Archie’s done with these guys, he’s taken guys that didn’t even play in the game last year against us, which we won, and made role players, go-to players and got guys to really buy into his system,” Miles said. "They’re defending really well, their offensive attack is really good and hard to guard since they’ve gone small.”
For the Huskers, it will be about moving past the disappointment of Sunday’s loss and not letting it affect them moving forward. “Still a ton to play for,” Miles said when asked about getting to play the final two games of their regular season at home. When he was asked about the biggest pressure point the team has right now, the bubble it’s trying not to burst, Miles acknowledged that regardless of what happens in these final two games, the Huskers have work to do in the Big Ten Tournament if they want to feel good about making the NCAA tournament thereafter.
But does he think they’re still in play? “Yeah,” he said with an air of confidence in his voice. Palmer echoed that.
"We’re definitely not going to readjust,” he said. “We know we should be able to make the NCAA tournament, that’s always our goal. We obviously know that game hurt us yesterday but that’s still our future plans.”
Tip-off between the Huskers and Indiana (16-12, 9-7 Big Ten) is set for just after 8 p.m. Tuesday night and according to the school, the game is drawing close to a sellout.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.