Things were going well through the first six minutes during Nebraska’s trip to Iowa City on Sunday. The Huskers led 15-11 at that point with five assists on six buckets. Then the game took a dramatic turn, starting with a Nebraska turnover.
“Turning the ball over, that was the key stretch where we got off to a great start … and then came down, I think it was four at that time, and we just started playing with the ball,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “[Patrick] McCaffrey just took it right from us, they go down and get a layup. We missed two point-blank layups, that was a key, that was a factor where they converted off those missed shots at the rim. And then we missed two wide open 3s just all by ourselves, and now they’re playing downhill. Then we came down and just did not have the same execution that we did early, even the execution where we got good looks at the basket, and then they really exposed us in transition.”
After taking that four-point lead, the Huskers’ next eight possessions included three turnovers, three misses at the rim and two missed 3-pointers. The Hawkeyes turned all three takeaways into points as they ripped off a 15-0 run to turn the tables, and Nebraska continued its downward spiral from there. Iowa outscored the Cornhuskers 42-10 the rest of the half.
“When you miss those kinds of opportunities, especially on the road against a high-powered, high-octane team like that, they’re going to pounce on you to take advantage of you and that’s what happened in that run that they went on against us,” Hoiberg said. “Second half, we had three turnovers and scored 50 points. It’s sometimes as simple as that, taking care of the basketball, converting when you have opportunities, and again, when you play a great team on the road that’s as confident as they are — they were coming off a 110-point game — when they get that on you, they’re playing downhill, we’re playing uphill.
“In that 13-, 14-minute stretch to end the first half they just pounced on us and that was the game. It didn’t matter what we did second half; we cut it, I think, to 19 at one point, had, I think, a 20-3 run, but obviously, just way too late to dig ourselves out of that type of hole.”
The Huskers turned the ball over 12 times in the first half and Iowa converted them into 19 points off turnovers, and Nebraska shot 3-of-17 from the field after jumping out to the 15-11 lead. Playing with pace is a a staple of Hoiberg’s system (Nebraska is 10th in the country in adjusted tempo according to KenPom), but when the game started to turn, the Huskers seemed get even more sped up and forced the issue rather than settling down and working hard for high-quality looks.
“We had some early success when we were getting it up and down, but when you take a couple of rushed shots when things aren’t going your way — and we’ve gotten a lot better at that over the course of the year,” Hoiberg said. “We had come down, especially Minnesota, played with great poise, I thought, that entire game, even when they went on their run in the second half. We almost sped up when they got going as opposed to taking a breath, getting in our set and executing and making them guard.
“There were too many possessions in that stretch where either we turned it over early, or we didn’t shift the defense. So that’s been a big focus the last couple days is really working on getting that defense shifted, making them work, and then we attack. Just too often we tried to attack early in the possession when they were sitting there with their length, and obviously those possessions did not end well.”
The Huskers have had plenty of time this week to work on the areas they struggled in against Minnesota with four days between games. The Huskers will host Maryland on Friday in the penultimate home game of the season.
“It’s been good to get to get on the practice court, to have some time — really three days — going into this one,” Hoiberg said. “So we’ve added to our package, we have really worked, obviously, on that other end. Transition has been a big emphasis for us, getting back, getting our defense set. Minnesota, it was as good a 40-minute, consistent basketball game that we’ve played all year and then we went back to having a stretch where, obviously, we were not sharp, we were not on point, and we got taken advantage of. So just really working on the overall consistency. That’s what’s going to give us a chance to win, if you play a complete 40-minute game.”
The Terrapins are 11-14 this season including 3-11 in Big Ten play. Coach Mark Turgeon and the program parted ways after eight games, leaving Danny Manning to fill in as the interim for the rest of the 2021-22 season.
Maryland is 91st in KenPom (93rd in adjusted offensive efficiency, 100th in adjusted defensive efficiency). The Terrapins have lost five straight but bounced back from a 110-87 route at home against Iowa to take Purdue down to the wire in a 62-61 loss at Purdue on Sunday. Their conference wins are over Northwestern, Illinois and Rutgers, with two of those coming on the road.
“I was really impressed with how they bounced back against Purdue in their last game to have that shot to win it at the buzzer,” Hoiberg said. “I think everybody knows that’s as difficult of an arena not only the Big Ten but in the country to go in there and have a chance to win, and they’ve got a 12-point lead with 10 minutes left in that game. They did a lot of really, really good things, and that was with [Eric] Ayala not playing that game. Fatts Russell is as quick with the ball as anybody in our league and when he gets downhill he is a very difficult player to stop. He can obviously get it going from the 3-point line as well. And then another thing that’s concerning is their size across the board. They’ve got pretty much from the two through five 6-6 to 7-feet and that length has posed a problem for us at times this season. So physicality is going to be very important this game and then, as always, rebounding and taking care of the basketball.”
Senior guard Eric Ayala, a four-year starter, is leading the team with 15.1 points per game, but he missed the Purdue game with a wrist injury and is a game-time decision for Friday. Rhode Island transfer Fatts Russell isn’t far behind at 14.5 points per game and is leading the team with 4.2 assists per game. Donta Scott, a 6-foot-7 forward, is contributing 12.6 points and a team-high 6.2 rebounds per game.
Maryland is only shooting 32.1% from 3 on the season, but in conference play that figure has jumped to 35.5% with Ayala leading the way at 36.7% on 7.5 attempts per game. Maryland is 211th in the country in effective field goal percentage a 49.2%, but the Terps are second in the league in free-throw attempts during conference play at 18.4 per game, hitting them at a 74.8% clip.
“They’re phenomenal getting to the free-throw line, especially their two guards,” Hoiberg said. “They’re two of the higher free-throw attempt rate guys in the league and you have to do a good job. We really worked on defending without fouling the last couple days of practice leading into this one. And then rebounding is going to be very important. When they offensive rebound, they win. So we have to do a good job on the glass, compete, be physical, and hopefully make first contact to get out and hopefully create some opportunities for us to get out in transition.”
The Big Ten Network will televise Friday’s game, which tips off at 8 p.m. CT at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Kevin Kugler and Robbie Hummel will call the game.
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.