Fred Hoiberg took advantage of UNL’s semester break to cut down on travel time and give his team a chance to bond away from home this week. The Huskers will have spent five days on the road by the end of Saturday’s game at Rutgers.
Nebraska left for East Lansing on Tuesday ahead of Wednesday’s game against Michigan State, then continued to head east after the loss instead of returning to Lincoln.
“It’s a good opportunity to go out and bond on the road,” Hoiberg said before the Huskers left for East Lansing. “After the disappointing game that we had against Ohio State, it gives the guys a chance to go out and be together and we’re all we’ve got on the road. I always found as a player, I loved going on the road when we were going through some struggles. It gives you an opportunity to bond and kind of an ‘us against the world’ approach.
“We’ll stay on the road, we’ll eat together, we’ll be together. It just gives the guys a great opportunity to spend really good, quality time. You don’t have a lot of these opportunities over the course of the college season because of academics. We have a little break, like we do right now, gives us this opportunity to stay out on the road and I think everybody’s looking forward to it.”
Hoiberg said he didn’t really have anything special planned for the trip outside of a visit to the NBA Players Association building to get in a practice before the game on Saturday.
“We’ve got one person on our staff that is a member,” Hoiberg quipped.
The Huskers showed some resiliency on Wednesday, bouncing back from the difficult loss to Ohio State to get off to a great start against the Spartans, another ranked opponent. However, Nebraska ran out of gas down the stretch and the shots stopped falling, allowing Michigan State to pull away and drop the Huskers to 0-4 in Big Ten play.
Now the Huskers head to Piscataway looking for their first conference win, and it won’t come easy at Jersey Mike’s Arena (formerly known as the RAC).
“Obviously, a very tough environment,” Hoiberg said on his postgame radio interview after the Michigan State game. “They’ve lost two games in the last couple years in that building and we’ve got to come out swinging and fighting. We’ll get two days to practice, starting tomorrow in their arena and an early one — that’s the only time slot they would give us — and then an opportunity Friday to put the game plan in and then an early game on Saturday. So we’ve got to bounce back quick and hopefully continue to go out there and play with great effort.”
The Scarlet Knights are 8-5 this season including 2-1 in Big Ten play, but all eight wins have come at home, including a 70-68 win over a Purdue team that was ranked No. 1 nationally at the time. Last season, Rutgers went 10-4 at home without fans in the stands, but they went 18-1 at the RAC the year prior with normal crowds.
Surprisingly, the Scarlet Knights do have one loss at home this season, and it was to Lafayette. Not the school previously known as Louisiana-Lafayette, but the Patriot League team located in Easton, Pennsylvania, that is 3-8 so far this season. Rutgers mustered just 51 points in a two-point loss to the Leopards.
The Scarlet Knights lost three of their top five from last year’s team that went 16-12 and earned a No. 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but they did return their best player in Ron Harper Jr. The 6-foot-6, 245-pound wing is averaging 15.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.6 steals while shooting 43.1% from 3 this season.
Point guard Geo Baker opted to return for a fifth season of eligibility and, although it’s a small sample size with him missing four games, he’s having the best season of his career, averaging 12.7 points and 4.2 assists while shooting 39.6% from deep after a 27-point explosion in Rutgers’ win over Michigan on Tuesday.
Sophomore center Clifford Omoruyi, a high 4-star recruit in the 2020 recruiting class, has made a big leap this season after backing up Myles Johnson as a freshman. With Johnson transferring to UCLA, the 6-foot-11, 240-pound Omoruyi is averaging 11.8 points and 7.6 rebounds while shooting 58.9% from the field.
Rutgers is only ranked 132nd in adjusted offensive efficiency according to KenPom thanks in large part to poor shooting percentages (47.4% from 2, 32.2% from 3 and 66.5% from the free-throw line). However, the Scarlet Knights are tough on the other end, ranked 68th in adjusted defensive efficiency while holding opponents to 45.3% shooting inside the arc.
Tipoff on Saturday is set for Saturday at 1 p.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.