The Huskers are mired in a five-game losing streak, and they’ve found several different ways to lose during that stretch. However, Coach Tim Miles said he feels his team isn’t that far off and that it has what it takes to right the ship.
“I thought we did a lot of things right against Northwestern,” Miles said. “Sometimes there’s a real discouragement; you can see that the guys need a break, they probably need something that you can’t provide for them, that they have to provide for themselves. I think these guys have enough resolve that they believe that we can do it. We’ve already done it in some difficult environments. We’ve done it against some really good teams. I think we’ve probably played more top 50 or top 100 games than most teams in the country, so they know what to expect.
“So you’re never really intimidated by anything. You just give yourself a chance. That’s quite frankly what this schedule has done for us and what next year’s schedule is going to do for us, because next year’s schedule is not going to be much different. I’ve seen other teams lose. I’ve had teams that have lost a lot. I’ve had teams that have won a lot. When you’re in it this long, you’ve seen both. These guys have, I believe, a toughness and that moxie that you’re not going to shake them easily; you’re going to have to beat them.”
Sophomore forward Michael Jacobson said the Huskers haven’t let the losing splinter the team.
“I think we’ve done a pretty good job of staying together,” Jacobson said. “Obviously a tough time losing five straight; not something you want to do. I think we’ve done a pretty good job staying together and trying to just follow the coaches’ lead.”
The road doesn’t get any easier on Sunday as the Purdue Boilermakers (17-4, 6-2) visit Lincoln for an afternoon showdown. The Boilermakers beat the Huskers twice last season by an average of 17 points.
“I didn’t like our approach last year when they came here,” Miles said. “I thought that mentally, we were intimidated. I don’t believe we’ll be intimidated this year. That doesn’t mean they won’t have some success inside, but we’re going to give our inside guys maybe a little more help too. They’ve got an excellent passing team, they’re one of the better 3-point shooting teams, they’re pretty good in transition; they do a lot of things right. But there’s a way to beat every team and we’ll figure that out.”
Purdue is built around sophomore Caleb Swanigan, a 6-foot-9, 250 forward who is averaging almost 19 points and 13 rebounds per game. Swanigan is a force on offense, and Miles said the best way to deal with him is to keep him busy on the other end.
“You’ve got to attack him,” Miles said. “On offense, you’ve got to go right at him. He is an NBA player, I mean now. If he wants to declare tomorrow at 9 a.m. that’s fine with me. He is a terrific player. He can make 3s, he drives it, he posts either shoulder, and he’s one of the better defensive rebounders that I’ve seen … That’s a tough match-up and with [Isaac] Haas being 7-2 that’s a tough match-up, and Matt [Painter] does such a good job; he knows how to play guys around them and they’ve got some tough match-ups, bit I think Caleb Swanigan is legitimately a player of the year candidate, and I don’t mean in the Big Ten; I mean nationally.”
Haas, the 7-foot-2, 290-pound junior, is Purdue’s second leading scorer at just over 13 points per game, giving Purdue one of the best front courts in the Big Ten, if not the nation. Whether or not Ed Morrow Jr. plays (officially a game-time decision per Miles), Jacobson said he and the rest of the Nebraska front court is excited about the challenge Haas and Swanigan present.
“I think any time you get big-time match-ups at your position it’s always a fun thing,” Jacobson said. “Obviously last year we definitely struggled, to say the least, against them. I think we’re excited to get the opportunity again and get it at home, and obviously on a special night with the Avery Strong thing going on too. It should be good and I think schematically we’ve got some good things going. I’m excited for it and I think our guys are too.”
Saturday isn’t just a game, it’s the annual Avery Strong game as part of the Coaches vs. Cancer event, inspired by Avery Harriman, the son of former Nebraska assistant Chris Harriman, who has battled with leukemia and is still living in Nebraska while going through treatment.
“The Avery Strong night is really important to us, obviously,” Miles said. “It’s not only the bone marrow; young people can come and get swabbed before the game, and we need them because there’s only a certain age that can be a bone marrow donor. If you look at the registry, we’ve been lucky enough to have four hits in three years. You could say that’s four lives saved by Nebraska fans. What a great thing, what a cool thing. And Chris and Eichorst and the whole group that puts that together, the registry part, and Chris and Cheryl Harriman and Avery who are more than happy to participate. Sometimes that’s a lot of attention and you don’t want that, but they’ve been great. Cheryl’s a season ticket holder; she comes to a lot of the games with the kids while Avery is still getting his care. It’s really cool.
“But even with all of that, pediatric cancer, we want to support everybody who is going through it. Our hearts go out to everybody that’s struggling that way and that’s why this day is important. We want it to be a fun day — we want to do some fun stuff, which we do — but at the same time we want to recognize that college basketball can do a lot of good things and Coaches vs. Cancer has done a lot for cancer [research and awareness]. The Jimmy V thing obviously is important and now what Nebraska has done with this event I think is outstanding.”
Seeking a way to replicate the team’s road success at home in Lincoln, Miles has adjusted his team’s pre-game schedule.
“We want Pinnacle Bank Arena to be full tomorrow,” Miles said. “We want people to be going crazy for us, and we’re going to need our fans. We’re 1-2 in the league at home, so we’re changing our set-up. We’re going to have an evening meal [on Saturday], and then we’re going to put the in a hotel. We’re going to get up and have breakfast tomorrow and then bring them over here and just change our set-up. Hopefully that can change some mind-set type of things. Is it necessary or not necessary? Well, things haven’t gone the way we wanted them to so it’s time for a change.”
Tip-off is set for 3:30 p.m. on BTN.
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.