Adding insult to injury after Nebraska’s loss at Rutgers on Monday, the team’s trip home hit a detour when they found out the Newark airport, where the team was planning to fly out of, was closed because of the poor weather on the east coast.
So the Huskers packed up and bussed over to Philadelphia to fly home from there instead. The Huskers didn’t touch down in Lincoln until almost 5:30 a.m.
“It was different,” senior forward Isaac Copeland said. “This is my fifth year playing college basketball and it’s never happened to me before. It was a little different but I think it gave us the time to relax and talk about the loss right away instead of everybody going back home. I think it worked out for us.”
The Huskers have lost two straight and four of their last six and are sitting at 3-5 in Big Ten play.
“Quite frankly, I haven’t done a good job of preparing them for the physicality that they need to play successfully,” Coach Tim Miles said. “Just the last two, three weeks or whatever it might be, I just don’t think that I’ve done a good job getting them ready and I think we’ve done a better job this week and I hope it translates into better results.”
What does his team need to get back on track?
“To toughen up,” Miles said.
That’s been the focus of practices this week.
“We needed to get back to our roots, pretty much,” Copeland said. “Earlier on in the year we were playing at a really high level and over the past couple of games we kind of dipped away from that. So our focus in practice has just been on toughness and defense and getting back to being who we are.”
Copeland said the team received Miles message about needing more toughness well in part because they had already come to that realization on their own.
“We met as a team first before we talked to him,” Copeland said. “That was kind of the message we already had coming in to it. Stats or whatever, that doesn’t really mean anything to us as far as toughness goes. We just kind of had a different vibe about it. We all saw it; we just needed to talk about it. When he came to us, it was kind of like ‘yeah, we agree with that.’”
Talking is something Copeland has tried to do more of recently.
“I think we really needed it,” the fifth-year senior said. “So far this year I think I’ve been here and there with my vocal leadership. Especially in a time like this I needed to step up so that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
Next up for the Huskers is an early tip-off at Pinnacle Bank Arena against an Ohio State team that has lost five straight after a 12-1 start to the season. Sitting at 12-6 and 2-5 in Big Ten play, the Buckeyes need a win in the worst way.
“Coach [Chris] Holtmann is excellent,” Miles said. “In fact his college coach, Paul Patterson, is a guy I talked to a couple weeks ago. He was a tremendous coach at Taylor [University] of Indiana — John Groce played there too. Chris’s teams remind me of those Taylor teams that were NAIA teams back then — physical, execute their stuff, move well without it, a lot of different guys can do a lot of different things. So they pose challenges, and then you’ve got Kaleb Wesson who is an all-conference type player inside who can score, who can shoot it from 3, who can really pass it well out of it too. So they’ve got a lot of challenges.”
Over the course of the season, the Buckeyes are holding opponents to 65.6 points per game while scoring 74.6 themselves. However, in conference play only, they’re in the negative, giving up 71.7 points per game while scoring just 69.1.
Sophomore center Kaleb Wesson (6-foot-9, 270 pounds) is leading the way with 15.3 points and 6.6 rebounds. Senior point guard CJ Jackson is putting up 12.7 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists. Freshman guard Luther Muhammad has been the team’s most accurate perimeter shooter at 40 percent on 2.6 attempts per game and he’s chipping in 9.1 points per game.
“They’ve got a good big man,” Copeland said. “A lot of teams have good bigs but he’s real big and I think he’s averaging like 16 points a game. He’s an effective scorer, so any time you have a good big man, we’re a smaller team and that’s a challenge for us. They play really good defense as well.”
The Buckeyes suffered a big blow to their frontcourt late in their loss to Maryland on Jan. 18 as sophomore forward Kyle Young suffered a stress fracture that will keep him out indefinitely. Young had started 12 games and was averaging 7.3 points and 4.8 rebounds. In the absence of the 6-foot-8 Young, Holzmann started 6-foot-3 freshman Duane Washington in Ohio State’s loss to Purdue on Wednesday.
“They went a lot smaller,” Miles said. “There were times they had Musa Jallow [a 6-foot-5, 200-pound sophomore] at their center and Kaleb Wesson down there too. More mobile, five perimeter guys out there running around. Young is a really string rebounder, a good shot-blocker, a tremendous athlete, has done some very good things this year. Certainly any time you have an injury it affects you. It just depends; in-game injuries are the worst because you don’t have any time to prepare. The more time they have to prepare I think the better off they’ll be.”
One of Miles’ goals for the second half of Big Ten play is to get freshman big man Brady Heiman more playing time to help with the team’s depth problems.
“I need to get Brady in,” Miles said. “I just think that he’s a guy that can do some things and it will allow us to play in a different way too … I don’t think he played very well for a while. I think he hit a wall a little bit.. We’re asking a lot of him, so that’s not uncommon. But I want him to know I believe in him too; that’s why I’ve got to roll him back out there.”
Heiman scored nine points and grabbed five rebounds against Minnesota in early December, but since then in conference play he has totaled 14 minutes, one assist and five fouls with two DNP-CDs.
“I think he should have been playing already,” Copeland said. “The only way to get somebody ready is to throw them into the fire. So I’m happy he said that.”
Tipoff on Saturday is set for 11 a.m. CT on FS1 with Jeff Levering and Nick Bahe on the call.
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.