There are just over 11 minutes to play in the game, Rutgers is up 58-38 and coming out of a timeout with the ball. A drive and kick creates a wide-open wing three for RU forward Akwasi Yeboah, but it draws the side of the iron.
Rutgers’ Myles Johnson tips the miss back in the general vicinity of the hoop, out-jumping everyone on the floor. Then he does it again when his tip clangs back off the rim. Then he does it again. Then he does it again.
On his fourth attempt, Johnson gets the shot to fall. He’s up to 16 points now, with those three tips going in the box score as offensive rebounds bumping his rebounding number up to 12. The sophomore center would finish with 18 and 14, leading the charge for a Rutgers team that left Pinnacle Bank Arena Friday night with a 79-62 win over Nebraska.
More fight was needed than what was shown. More consistent play on the end where you really have to work and battle.
Nebraska was OK early, building a 15-10 lead seven minutes into the game thanks to transition brilliance and turning down good looks to swing the ball an extra time for a great look. But shots stopped falling around that same time (Nebraska went nearly eight minutes without a bucket) and Rutgers ripped off an 18-1 run that became a 31-13 close to the half.
Nebraska, now 6-8 on the year and 1-2 in Big Ten play, was done by that point.
The 62 points came with an ugly 32% clip from the field. Turnovers weren’t an issue—Nebraska only had seven—and neither was shot-selection (for the most part). Nebraska just misfired. One of those nights, point guard Cam Mack said afterward.
The real problems were seen when Johnson was just out-working everyone else when camped out in the most valuable real estate on the court.
“That was the most physical team we’ve played to this point,” Husker head coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We talked about that leading into this one and how important it was to try and keep them out of the paint as much as possible.
“They got in there way too often.”
To the tune of 52 points. Rutgers had 16 offensive rebounds, it had 12 second-chance points, it had two guys darn near out-rebound Nebraska’s whole side down in the paint, and it pretty much got whatever it wanted when it wanted.
Nebraska tried its hand at a matador-style defense, gambling on perimeter players then getting blown by. Then the helper is compromised and a shooter is open. Then Rutgers can rinse and repeat until something presents itself at the rim or the ball finds the right shooter. The Scarlet Knights were selective with their 3s compared to the Huskers, taking only 15 (Nebraska was at 31), but not for lack of opportunity. They were there, Rutgers was just more intent on driving those open looks.
“Too often defensively we allowed them to get into the paint, where we either had to help the big or they were spraying it out and driving us on long close-outs. Once they shot it up, whether they made it or not, we had no chance of getting Johnson off the glass. He’s just too big and physical in there. Obviously we’ve got a lot of work to do.
“When we go out there with a defensive mindset and a defensive mentality, we have a chance to win, and when we don’t, we don’t give ourselves a chance.”
Hoiberg didn’t think it was entirely effort. It’s a lack of attention to gameplan. Nebraska can play when shots aren’t falling; the head ball coach pointed to the Purdue game when Nebraska defended in the face of a cold shooting stretch. But wins won’t come if the Huskers are as leaky inside as they were Friday night.
The 17-point win came out to be the largest margin of victory in a road Big Ten game for Rutgers. Ever.
“This league will challenge you,” RU head coach Steve Pikiell said after the game. “It’ll challenge you on many levels.”
Nebraska wasn’t ready for it Friday night.
Iowa comes to Pinnacle Bank Arena next Tuesday, Jan. 7. That game is set for tip at 8 p.m. CT on BTN. The Hawkeyes are 12th nationally in offensive rating.
“We’ve got to find a way to correct [the defense], to get more consistent on that end of the floor, and get better,” Hoiberg said. “We’ve got three days before we go out and play the best offensive team in our league, so it’s going to be a commitment by our team. It’s on me that we’re not more consistent in that area right now. We’ve got to get better.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.