Update (6:30 p.m.): The Huskers have announced the injury Isaac Copeland sustained during Saturday’s game was a torn left ACL.
“I am broken hearted for Isaac,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said in a release. “He is a young man who had every option available to him last spring, but wanted to come back and help lead the Huskers back to the NCAA Tournament and beyond. He has meant so much to our program and has been a valued leader in the Husker basketball family since arriving on campus two years ago. In typical Isaac fashion, he was the most vocal player in the huddle even after his injury, encouraging his teammates and showing leadership even though he was unable to play.”
A bad day becomes worse.
Senior forward Isaac Copeland will miss the remainder of Nebraska’s season and his collegiate career, per the player himself, is over after a knee injury suffered against Ohio State Saturday.
It isn’t immediately clear what the injury is, but Nebraska conducted an MRI shortly after the game and a university spokesman said there would be more information soon.
In the second half, Copeland caught a pass on the wing, shot faked and started to drive before being called for a travel. With the play over, Copeland continued towards the hoop to try and slam it home but came down funky on his leg and fell to the court underneath the basket.
He limped to the Husker bench and spent several minutes with the team’s doctor before getting up and walking around behind the bench. He left for the locker room shortly after and didn’t emerge until later. He did not play the rest of the game, finishing with eight points in 15 minutes.
After the game, head coach Tim Miles addressed the injury.
“We don’t know the severity of it. It could be severe. We’re going to get an MRI, and I believe we’re going to get that done this afternoon, so we’ll know a lot more in the coming hours,” Miles said then. “I just hope for Isaac’s sake—I know if he could’ve played, he would have—so I hope for his sake he’s alright.”
Copeland, a former 5-star recruit and transfer from Georgetown, averaged 14.3 points (a career-high) and 5.6 rebounds with a career-high 52 percent clip from the field in 19 games this season, all starts.
In February 2017, after transferring from Georgetown, Copeland had surgery on a herniated disc in his back. He spent the offseason rehabbing and it limited his preparation for the 2017-18 season. Still, Copeland played in and started all 33 games for Huskers last season while averaging 12.9 points and 6.1 rebounds, but those close to him said the athleticism and conditioning weren’t quite all the way back.
When Copeland was being recruited from high school, his athleticism and ability to play above the rim was a large part of what made him such an intriguing prospect. Heading into this season, both Miles and teammates raved that athletic ability was back again and that Copeland was looking as good as he’s ever looked.
Former Nebraska assistant coach Kenya Hunter, now at UConn, told Hail Varsity Copeland was as important to Nebraska’s success this year as any one player on the team.
And he began the year on fire. Over a seven-game stretch from Nov. 14 through Dec. 5, Copeland averaged 17 a night with back-to-back 20-point outings and five games in which he shot north of 50 percent from the field.
At 23 years old, Copeland turned down the prospect of professional basketball — either in the NBA or overseas — to return for his final season of eligibility. There was unfinished business, he said, after the way Nebraska’s last season ended. He graduated with his degree in May of 2018.
Already short on depth, there isn’t a clear-cut path to replacing what Copeland brings to the table for the Huskers. The Raleigh, North Carolina, native leads the team in net rating, with the Huskers outscoring teams by 25.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. Defensively, he’s the primary helper and allows Isaiah Roby to be an aggressive shot-blocker and Nebraska’s guards to be aggressive in their coverage on the perimeter because of his lateral movement and instinct.
Senior forward Tanner Borchardt, a former walk-on, and freshman Brady Heiman will be the first two Miles will look at in absorbing Copeland’s 32 minutes a night. Borchardt has played a shade under 14 minutes a night in Nebraska’s nine conference games so far and Heiman has played even less, with 5.7 minutes averaged in seven games (two DNP-CDs).
The Huskers could try playing sophomore wing Nana Akenten as a four (Miles has experimented with that some for stretches this season) but going even smaller might not prove a sustainable solution for a team that already struggles to rebound and was just beaten soundly on the glass Saturday.
Unfortunately for Miles and his Huskers, losers of five of their last seven, things just got tougher. With 11 games left in the regular season, five on the road and four against team’s currently ranked, the Huskers don’t have a ton of time to figure things out.
First up is Wisconsin (14-6 and 6-3 in Big Ten play after beating Northwestern 62-46 Saturday), who comes to town on Tuesday, Jan. 29, for a 7 p.m. tilt with the Huskers.