Fresh off a big win against Penn State, the Huskers are hitting the road for a two-game stretch starting with a re-match with the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday.
Ohio State beat Nebraska at Pinnacle Bank Arena on a last-second shot on Jan. 18. Since joining the Big Ten, the Huskers are 1-10 against Ohio State with the only win coming at home.
“We haven’t competed well at Ohio State,” Coach Tim Miles said. “We need to go out and play really well. The times we’ve played them really well, we’ve scored in the paint, and when we’ve struggled with their length and not scored in the paint, that’s when they’ve got us.”
The Huskers scored 46 points in the paint against the Nittany Lions and the Big Ten’s second-leading shot-blocker in Mike Watkins on Tuesday, and Miles is hoping to see more of the same in Columbus.
“I thought with Watkins in there, he’s really good and difficult to attack,” Miles said. “I thought we did a nice job with him. Trevor Thompson is the same way but then you’ve got those other guys with length like [Marc] Loving and [Jae’Sean] Tate’s good with his hands and a lot of other problems … We just have to be at our best.”
The Huskers will have to keep the Buckeyes out of the paint on the other end as well and improved play by freshman center Jordy Tshimanga and better health by sophomore forward Ed Morrow Jr. should gave the Huskers a bit more rim protection than they had in the previous meeting.
“I think that will really help,” Miles said. “Tate’s not a good matchup for us, that’s the hard part. He lives at the rim so that will be of keen interest to us during the game of where we are on that match-up.”
Tate is a 6-foot-4 junior who leads the Buckeyes with 14 points per game while playing as an undersized power forward.
The Huskers have three one-point losses and several other close losses this season and Miles is hoping to see his team improve in its ability to close out games as the Huskers head into the stretch run of the season.
“Sometimes it’s kind of a cumulative effect of foul trouble or we’ve had injuries … so you get some fatigue in there too, but really what I want to eliminate is the frustration or bad decision here, bad decision there or even a missed free throw, whatever it might be,” Miles said. “I think those are things we can really control. We’re deeper now than we have been either of those last two games too and including the last time we played Ohio State. I think this will be our best team we’ve put up against Ohio State, so it should be a lot of fun.”
Freshman forward Isaiah Roby suffered a moderately sprained ankle in the second half against Penn State. According to Miles, he left the arena on crutches on Tuesday but was walking around on Thursday. However, he hasn’t practiced and is currently undergoing treatment to get him back on the court as soon as possible.
“I would say it’s 50-50 at best that he even dresses out,” Miles said about Saturday’s game.
As for the other injured Huskers, Miles said he believe Glynn Watson Jr. is feeling healthier after dealing with a groin injury and is coming off back-to-back strong performances. Ed Morrow Jr. is still dealing with his foot injury but will practice some and play on Saturday.
The staff pointed out to the team how falling into the bottom four of the Big Ten means they would have to win five games in five days to win the Big Ten Tournament, where as teams that finish higher up the standings earn byes.
Nebraska (5-8) is currently in 10th place, a game up in the loss column on Ohio State and Indiana (5-9).
“This is one of the few teams behind us in the standings, so it’s really important I think to come out and keep that separation so you can move forward because you’re not far from a really good seed, and you’re not far from a really difficult seed, bad seed,” Miles said. “February is awesome … this is when basketball really matters. It should be fun.”
Tip-off in Columbus is set for 5 p.m. on Saturday on BTN with Jeff Levering and Stephen Bardo on the call.
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.