Nebraska will ring in the New Year in the nation’s capital as the Huskers are swinging through Washington D.C. on their way to College Park to take on Maryland on Wednesday.
Coach Tim Miles said Senator Ben Sasse is going to give the team a tour of the capitol building, though senior forward Isaac Copeland said he is hoping the team will get a chance to walk around and do a bit of shopping as well so he can spend some of his Christmas money.
It will be all business on Wednesday, however, as the Huskers (11-2, 1-1 in the Big Ten) begin Big Ten play in earnest against the Terrapins, and Miles said Monday’s practice reflected that.
“I thought our mindset was really good,” Miles said. “I thought the kids played very well against Southwest [Minnesota] State and handled business and today was a very good practice, in tune and alert to what’s going on, so it was a good practice … I would say, watching their actions in practice, you could see that it’s about to get real. We have a veteran team, so I would expect them to act accordingly.”
After sitting out Saturday’s win against Southwest Minnesota State with a groin injury, junior forward Isaiah Roby returned to full-go at practice on Monday. The Huskers had Sunday off. Miles said he’s hopeful that Roby will be able to play on Wednesday but his status will be decided prior to the game.
“We’ll see how this goes,” Miles said. “If he’s all sore or whatever tomorrow, then we’ve got a new problem … He played fine [in practice]. He had a good practice, but you still have to see. Those things are tricky and you have to be careful. To aggravate it doesn’t take much. RJ, our trainer, is working hard, working with our team docs. I think they found some different things, and that’s what happens as you go.”
Freshman guard Amir Harris also returned to practice in a limited fashion after missing the last four games with an illness.
After getting bumped from last week’s AP Poll, Nebraska jumped back into the Top 25 this week at No. 24. Nebraska leapfrogged Iowa, now at No. 25, and Arizona State dropped out after a home loss to Princeton on Saturday. The Huskers held steady at No. 24 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
The Terrapins are 10-3 (1-1 in the Big Ten) this season and have three double-digit scorers in junior point guard Anthony Cowan, sophomore center Bruno Fernando and freshman forward Jalen Smith.
“Coach [Mark] Turgeon, whose dad lives here in town, who’s from Topeka, has done a great job,” Miles said. “That is a really quick, athletic and talented group. Those two kids inside, Sticks [SMith] and Bruno, are just really a tough tandem. They can hurt you inside and outside. Bruno’s gotten a lot better. We’re just going to have to be at our best, maybe do some things to help each other out, how we’re going to maybe take our guards in and help inside or whatever it is. We don’t want to give up a lot of 3s, and they have some guys that can really make 3s. Some of the numbers don’t pan out, but I still think the ability is there.”
Fernando is 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds and is nearly averaging a double-double with 14.5 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. Nebraska pulled out a 70-66 win at Maryland last year but Fernando put up 21 points, nine boards and five assists in that game.
“He’s a tough matchup,” Copeland said. “Last year he had a good game against us and we have two chances at him this year. It starts with this one this week so we have to be ready for him.”
Smith is a 6-foot-10, 215-pound forward who was ranked as a 5-star prospect in the 2018 recruiting class and has made an immediate impact, putting up 11.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.
Copeland said Maryland’s size, length and athleticism is what makes the Terps so hard to play against.
“We’re long and athletic but they’re that plus have more size at both the four and the five spots,” Copeland said. “So we’ve got to really work on our rebounding — it’s been an issue for us all year. But as long as we play hard and play smart I think we have a good chance.”
However, Maryland’s leading scorer is its 6-foot point guard, Cowan. He’s putting up 16.5 points, 4.5 points and 3.9 rebounds per game.
“He is a blur in transition and so that’s the biggest thing is we can’t turn the ball over and have them run offense out of our offense because you won’t catch him,” Miles said. “In the halfcourt, he can get into his 3. He’s so fast and quick to his right hand. You have to try to make him play in a crowd; you’ve got to get your guys to him. I always say I look at the worth of a guy in how he changes your game plan, when he’s in, when he’s not in and stuff like that. And when he’s in the game, you’ve got to scheme it up against him a little bit. You’ve got to make sure you’re alert to that. That’s no disrespect to any other player in the country, but he changes your game plan.”
If Roby isn’t able to go or is limited, senior center Tanner Borchardt will have an increased role again after getting his first career start on Saturday against Southwest Minnesota State. Borchardt converted both of his shot attempts and grabbed nine rebounds in a career-high 17 minutes.
“What you see is what you get with Tanner,” Miles said. “You know exactly where he’s at, you know what he’s going to do. The only thing I worry about is if he’s going to foul too much because he’ll give up a foul for the team. And that’s good, you want some of that because he’s the one guy that can and will and he’ll stop layups and make guys earn it. But at the same time, if Robes is not where we want him to be, we’re going to need him in an extended role and Brady [Heiman] too. Brady, I thought, handled his first Big Ten road game very well; nine and five against Minnesota was very key for us while we were managing foul trouble. I can’t say we’re going to need the same numbers because that’s not fair to him, but we’re going to need a good performance out of him.”
Copeland had plenty of praise for Borchardt, a former walk-on, as well.
“He did great,” Copeland said. “Tanner’s one of our best rebounders. I think somebody tweeted he had nine rebounds in a really short amount of time. Five offensive rebounds, he’s real active and productive. You don’t need the ball to make an impact on the game, so you’ve got to appreciate that … He rarely is in the wrong spots. He’s our best screen-setter, he rolls the hardest. He’s not the most athletic but he’s more athletic than you think he is. He gets his hands on a lot of balls and goes up and finishes pretty well.”
Wednesday is Nebraska’s second Big Ten road game of the season after the Huskers lost at Minnesota 85-78 on Dec. 5 during the early conference game window.
“We just have to stay together,” Copeland said about what they learned from that first road trip. “We made some bad plays here and there and they were just running the same thing over and over and getting to the basket. I think we’ve just got to learn how to stay composed. That’s what we took away from that game, just kind of be ready for adversity and attack it.”
Miles said it is really hard to win on the road in college basketball, and doing so will come down to the defensive end for the Huskers.
“It’s just the way it goes on the road,” Miles said. “We had a bad defensive night, and defense travels. We’re going to need our guys to be locked in and play a really good game defensively. We don’t have to be perfect, but at the same time, we’ve got to be better than we were against Minnesota, especially the second half.”
Tipoff on Wednesday is set for 5:30 p.m. CT on BTN with Kevin Kugler and Seth Davis on the call.