After a quick pit-stop back at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Saturday, the Huskers are back on the road for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Nebraska will take on No. 16 Clemson at Littlejohn Coliseum on Monday night.
The Huskers drew the Tigers in the inter-conference challenge for the second time in three years. Nebraska dropped a 60-58 decision at Clemson in 2016 when Tai Webster’s shot at the buzzer didn’t fall.
This season, the Tigers are off to a 5-1 start coming off a trip to the Sweet 16 last season. Clemson suffered its first loss of the season to Creighton, 87-82, in the championship game of the Cayman Islands Classic on Wednesday.
“Brad Brownell I’ve known for a long time,” Coach Tim Miles said. “He does a tremendous job. They’re excellent defensively. I watched some of the Creighton game … I thought Creighton played really well, and they can get you; they can put a blitz on you, so that didn’t shock me that they lost. But they’re a really good team and they’re still a deserving nationally ranked team so we’re looking forward to a battle. The last time we had the ACC Challenge the only road game we’ve lost in that thing since we’ve been here was at their place. Late in the game we had chances to win and just didn’t get it done. I’m hoping for a good battle.”
Clemson returned its leading scorer from last year’s squad in Marquise Reed, a 6-foot-3 senior guard who is putting up 19.8 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. Another senior guard, 6-foot-4 Shelton Mitchell, was also a double-digit scorer a year ago and is second on the team at 14.7 points and 2.8 assists per game this season.
Miles took note of Clemson’s frontcourt, however, from what he saw of the Tigers against Creighton.
“Elijah Thomas is a good inside player we had on campus on a visit,” Miles said. “Aamir Simms was really impressive to me — big, physical body with a lot of skill … Just knowing Brad, systematically he runs good stuff, defends well, makes it hard for you.”
Thomas is a 6-foot-9, 245-pound post putting up 10.3 points and 7.0 rebounds per game while converting 62.5 percent of his shots. At 6-foot-7 and 248 pounds, Simms is the stretch-four to Thomas’ traditional five. He’s putting up 11 points and 4.5 rebounds per game while shooting 50 percent (10-of-20) from deep.
David Skara, a 6-foot-8, 213-pound forward from Croatia rounds out the Clemson starting lineup. Sara is averaging 8.2 points and 4.2 boards and 46.2 percent (6-of-13) from 3. Outside of Simms and Skara, Clemson doesn’t have another player shooting better than 33.3 percent from deep.
After beating Western Illinois on Saturday afternoon, the Huskers traveled to Clemson on Sunday. That doesn’t leave much time to prepare for a tough opponent, but Miles said he has faith in his team to take care of business.
“This particular squad — and I’m kind of going back, and we’re not as deep — has been very good on a one-day prep,” Miles said. “I used to just really freak out about it but now I’m trying to convince myself, ‘no, it’s OK.’ Most of it is mindset, it’s just going to be doing all the little things. I’m sure our guys will be excited. It’ll be a very difficult game. I’m sure we’re the underdog and that’s fair. So it’s going to be something that we’re going to need to play a great game to win.”
Against Texas Tech, the best team Nebraska has played to this point, Miles went with a short bench, playing four of his starters 36-plus minutes (with foul trouble keeping the fifth under that mark). Just three players off the bench saw the court for a combined total of 24 minutes, producing just three points between them. Outside of senior center Tanner Borchardt, a former walk-on, Miles has nothing but freshmen and sophomores to turn to on the bench.
Are those underclassmen ready to play a bigger role — and will Miles trust them more — in Nebraska first true road game of the season?
“Are they exactly ready? No,” Miles said. “Because they’re inexperienced, and you have to experience things to get an idea of how to prepare and what it’s like. The fact they’re inexperienced I would say no, they’re not ready, but that’s part of the game, that’s the exciting part. That’s why we love college basketball — who knows what’s going to happen? You can kind of predict and guess, but they’re young kids figuring it out.”
The Huskers missed out on a chance at a quality win with the loss to Texas Tech, but Miles doesn’t see this next one as holding any more significance. Unlike last season, the Huskers should get plenty of chances to build their postseason resumé.
“The way I look at it, we’ve got two league games after this — Minnesota’s undefeated, I think Illinois who almost beat Gonzaga is fine,” Miles said. “And then Creighton, and then Oklahoma State, and then [Call State] Fullerton who was in the NCAA [Tournament] last year. So you don’t have to look far in this schedule to find a premium opportunity for a statement game. I don’t think the interest compounds or makes it more and more important just because we lost the last one.”
Tipoff at Clemson is set for 6 p.m. CT on ESPN2.
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.