After an up-and-down trip to Orlando that saw the Huskers go 2-1 in the AdvoCare Invitational, Nebraska is back in Lincoln for the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
This season, the Huskers are hosting Boston College (5-2). The Eagles went 9-23 last season but returned a pair of dynamic guards and added a nightly double-double threat from the Missouri Valley via the graduate transfer market.
“They’re terrific right now,” Coach Tim Miles said. “Their guard play was good last year and they’ve improved with Deontae Hawkins [from Illinois State]. Deontae Hawkins comes in as an all-conference power forward in the Valley as a junior; he’s a bonafide good player. When you’re an all-league player, especially one of the upper leagues like the Valley is, you’re a good player at a lot of places. He’s come in and given them an excellent dimension of rebounding, offensive rebounding and scoring.”
Hawkins is a 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward who is putting up 13.6 points and a team-best 10.3 rebounds per game for the Eagles, giving them an interior presence they did not have last season.
“Then they’ve got the three guards,” Miles continued. “[Ky] Bowman really is a creator and a 3-point shooter. [Jerome Robinson] Robinson can make 3s. [Jordan] Chatman can make 3s and he’s a very efficient player.”
Bowman, a 6-foot-1 sophomore point guard, is leading Boston College with 15.4 points and 5.6 assists per game and is also grabbing 5.7 rebounds per game. Bowman has struggled with his 3-point shot this season (29.3 percent) but shot 44.9 percent last season as a freshman.
Robinson, a 6-foot-6, 191-pound junior wing, led the team in scoring last season at 18.7 points per game and is just behind Bowman at 14.9 per game this season while shooting 43.3 percent from deep.
Chatman, a 6-foot-5 guard, rounds out the Eagles averaging double figures at 10.1 points per game.
The Huskers have faced a couple of dynamic backcourts with games against the likes of North Dakota and St. John’s under their belts, and they will use that experience to prepare for Bowman and Robinson.
“Even though I might guard one and [Glynn Watson Jr.] might guard the other, it’s always a five-man effort and everybody has to be locked in,” senior guard Evan Taylor said. “Our bigs have to be locked in. I think in the North Dakota game especially, we were all connected on defense; that’s why we did such a good job of stopping them. So I think that needs to be a point of emphasis preparing for the game.”
Overall, Boston College is 5-0 against lower level teams and 0-2 against high-major competition with losses to Texas Tech and Providence, but Miles is expecting a battle.
“Their inside guys are better and they’re rebounding the ball very well and they’ve been good defensively,” Miles said. “They offensive rebound well, their offense has been good, especially in the 2-point range where we’ve really struggled for a while in my book. And those guards are good in the mid-range game too. They have a great deal of confidence because they have a new dynamic like we do, an injection of new talent, and those guys are doing a really good job for them. I think they’re a good team. I think it should be a good game.”
Through seven games, the Eagles are 26th in the country in total rebounds and 26th on the offensive glass. Nebraska has been even better on the offensive glass (18th) but they haven’t been up to Miles’ standards on the defensive end (101st). Miles said defensive rebounding is the biggest area the Huskers have to address on the defensive end.
“That goes with a lot of things — your ability to guard screen-and-roll and get the ball stopped there, your ability to guard the ball one-on-one in isolation or off a closeout; the better you guard the ball and stand the offense up, the better your rebounding is going to be,” Miles said. “Also, we kind of stop on some rebounds. We don’t necessarily chase it down. We have an enormous amount of rebounds that we hit with two hands and don’t come up with. Maybe we need some Stickum.”
Nebraska will have to make progress on that end without one of their best rebounders in sophomore forward Isaiah Roby, who Miles said is doubtful after rolling his ankle against Long Beach State in the fifth place game at the AdvoCare Invitational. Miles said it isn’t a high-ankle sprain and that Roby should be “day-to-day” moving forward.
With Roby likely on the shelf, Nebraska will need junior Jack McVeigh to step up at the power forward spot behind starter Isaac Copeland. After averaging 17 and 22.9 minutes per game his first two seasons, McVeigh is playing just 6.7 minutes per game this season.
“A guy like Jack McVeigh, I think, can help us,” Miles said. “I don’t think he’s come out and played as aggressively as he can. I believe that Jack is going out and maybe he knows that he’s not getting quite the minutes he used to get so he’s more protective of what he does and we need him better than that. We need him playing more aggressively. A guy like Jack will slide into that spot and we’ll just see after that. You never know when you might throw in a wing, like Nana Akenten or something like that, a bigger wing.”
Freshman point guard Thomas Allen has been limited recently after falling hard on his tailbone against North Dakota on Nov. 19, but Miles said he’s getting close to full strength.
“I think Thomas Allen’s getting better physically, too, so I could see his minutes getting better and improving … I’ll bet he’s in the 90s [percentage-wise] now,” Miles said. “He wasn’t that way; he couldn’t even complete our first practice in Florida … He’s much better and I thought he made big plays for us, two very important plays late in the game against Long Beach State.”
This will be Nebraska’s first test on its home floor against a high-major team, and the schedule only gets progressively tougher from there so the Huskers are hoping to start off with a win.
“We’ve got a lot of good games on our home floor this year and the goal is to not lose at Pinnacle,” Taylor said. “We’ve got great fans and a great atmosphere, so we just want to keep that up, especially with how hard it i to win road games. You’ve got to take care of home as best as you can.”
Tip-off at Pinnacle Bank Arena is set for 8:20 p.m. on ESPNU.
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.