LINCOLN, Neb. — First impressions go a long way, and on Monday night, freshman forward Isaiah Roby made one heck of an impression on Husker fans as he dazzled the crowd of nearly 7,000 in Nebraska’s 98-45 exhibition win against Division II Chadron State.
The 6-foot-8 native of Dixon, Illinois, finished with a game-high 16 points on 5-of-5 shooting, seven rebounds, one assist, two steals, two blocks and a handful of altered shots in 23 minutes.
“He can play,” junior guard Anton Gill said. “He’s real good. The sky’s the limit for him and we’re going to need him this year.”
Roby’s first three minutes of action foreshadowed what was to come as he drilled a 3-pointer, grabbed a rebound, blocked a shot and corralled the ball before taking it down the court for a tomahawk jam. After seven minutes, Roby had scored seven points and grabbed five rebounds.
“Well he can get a lot better,” Coach Tim Miles said. “He’s got growth in him … Roby is a kid — I haven’t had a freshman like him, here, that’s for sure, probably not at Colorado State either, but he’s a next-level kind of kid, I think. He just needs to get the right habits and get in the swing of things. You can see he comes down, he’s late on the defensive play, he blocks a shot, grabs the ball, dribbles down, dunks it, he can do a lot of things.”
Roby had to sit out a few months to allow a stress reaction in his pelvis to heal and only just recently returned to the court, although he didn’t show much rust on Monday night.
“I’m still kind of struggling, just like coming into the speed of the college game, so, yeah, it’s still a work in progress,” Roby said. “There’s still a lot to polish up.”
Roby wasn’t the only new face on the floor that produced as Nebraska’s five newcomers combined to score 59 of Nebraska’s 98 points.
Gill played in his first game with the Huskers after transferring from Louisville and sitting out last season. He finished with 10 points and a block in 21 minutes.
“It felt good,” Gill said. “It’s been a long time. Especially with transferring and injuries and things like that. So, I’ve still got a lot to work on and improve on but it felt good to get your feet wet a little bit.”
Junior college transfer Evan Taylor had 12 points and three assists but turned the ball over six times while handling some back-up point guard duties. Freshman forward Jeriah Horn came out firing and knocked down four of his six 3-point attempts to finish with 12 points. Horne is still trying to earn his way into the rotation for the regular season, and a performance like he had on Monday should only help him.
“A guy like Jeriah Horne can get buckets,” Miles said. “He’s got a great looking jumper and he’s just got to catch up to the speed of the game and acclimate himself to the system and understanding, but I really like him and any time he shoots it, it’s fine with me.”
Finally, freshman center Jordy Tshimanga’s debut had some peaks and valleys as he hit a couple of nice driving hooks, scored seven points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked two shots, but he also fouled out in 16 minutes and shot 3-of-8 from the charity stripe.
“Jordy needs reps,” Miles said. “He needs to work on his playing in bounds, work on being a powerful player, not a clumsy player. He needs to learn how to push himself. He and [Isaiah] Roby and Jeriah [Horne] all need to learn how to push themselves hard. Quite frankly, that was the whole goal of the second half, was to get those guys out there, get them fatigued and make them play through fatigue.”
Sophomore Ed Morrow finished with 10 points including a couple of thunderous dunks and four rebounds while the starting backcourt of senior Tai Webster and sophomore Glynn Watson Jr. combined to put up 14 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds with zero turnovers.
The 98 points is the most the huskers have scored in an exhibition game since 2002 and the team shot 54.8 percent from the field including 42.9 percent from downtown. All 10 eligible scholarship players scored.
“I think we have a really opportunistic team is how I’d put it,” sophomore forward Michael Jacobson said. “We’ve got a lot of guys through 10, 11 that can score the basketball, a lot of guys that can do different things just athletically and then skill-wise. I think you’ll see a little more spread out offense. If one guy gets hot, then obviously we’re definitely going to feed him, but I think you’ll definitely see the offense be a little more spread out this year.”
The game was never in doubt as the huskers raced out to a 21-1 start, but Miles’ customary halftime tweet highlighted better ball movement as an area the team could improve. In the second half, the Huskers dished out 13 assists to just four turnovers after finishing with seven assists and nine turnovers in the first 20 minutes.
“I thought we shared the ball better,” Miles said. “I thought guys like Tai Webster and Glynn Watson really set the tone to start the second half. It would have been easy to come out and go half-speed, but they were able to set the tone, and then we were able to get minutes for guys that needed minutes.”
It wasn’t all positive, however. Jacobson highlighted free-throw shooting, ball-pressure and defensive rebounding as areas the team needs to improve. As a team, the Huskers shot just 21-of-35 (60 percent) from the foul line.
With its lone tune-up game in the books, the Huskers will officially open the season at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Sunday against Sacramento State. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.
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.