For this week’s Padding the Stats column, I ran the numbers for Nebraska’s top four scorers from the past four games in the wake of Isaac Copeland Jr.’s injury, and they were not pretty.
For senior point guard Glynn Watson Jr. in particular those numbers are: 45 points on 13-of-45 from the field, 6-of-22 from 3 and 11-of-11 from the free-throw line with seven assists and eight turnovers.
Coach Tim Miles said after the loss to Wisconsin that getting Watson going again is a priority.
“I’ve watched some film with him one-on-one which I think is important,” Miles said. “We’ve watched some things as a team where he was going the last time we played [Illinois]. Then I’m going to watch a whole bunch of his makes with him tonight or tomorrow before the game and just reiterate … When he gets a little bit hyper — he’s like his coach, he gets a little bit hyper — he gets into his shot and out of it too quick. He snaps into it, doesn’t hold his follow-through, low-percentage play, flattens out. He knows you have to get into it quick, but you have to stay with your shot too.”
Watson said these last couple of days in practice have been “very important” for him.
“Just like last game, after the game, me and James [Palmer Jr.] had a meeting with Coach individually,” Watson said. “Just finding a way to not take bad shots and get into rhythm early so we won’t have to take tough shots. You’re going to have to take some tough shots, but you want to be in a rhythm so you can make them. I think that’s where we weren’t at last game. We’re just trying to find a way without Isaac.”
Watson admitted that he and the other veterans like Palmer might be pressing little bit in the midst of Nebraska’s offensive struggles.
“Sometimes, I think so,” Watson said. “I think we get down on ourselves when things aren’t going so well, offense and things like that. We’ve just got to stay positive and have fun out there.”
There’s no denying that Nebraska needs more out of the likes of Watson, Palmer and Isaiah Roby with the loss of Copeland’s 14 points per game, but going about it the way the Huskers have recently isn’t going to do any good. They have to find the middle ground between putting the team on their backs — or putting on their Superman capes, as Miles put it — and sticking with the game plan and playing as a team.
“If you don’t take great shots, it doesn’t matter,” Miles said. “In the Big Ten, it’s a shot-maker’s league, it’s a league that if you get quick and you get careless, you’re in trouble. That’s the biggest thing, and that’s a hard line to toe. What you’ve got to do is get those guys going a little bit. Now once you can get them going, you can ride them out a little bit. What I mean by that is let’s say we all share it, we run an action to create some play for the team, we get a drive and kick, Glynn hits a 3. Now maybe we can go to him and feature him a little bit more.”
To ease the burden on the remaining three of the “Core Four,” Nebraska needs to get its shooters going again, namely Thomas Allen Jr. and Nana Akenten. Over the last four games, Allen is 5-of-15 from 3 (and 6-of-18 from 2), and he’s shooting just 34.2 percent from deep in conference play. Akenten has made just two of his 18 3-point attempts in Big Ten play and has missed 11 straight.
“Usually when you look at Tom, his best byproduct is standing and scoring,” Miles said. “I thought Tom tried to do a little bit too much, actually, and then he gets into a bad mentality. So take what comes to you, read the defense, see the play, make the play. Nana’s got to get out of his own way. Just one of those guys where he’s in tears after the game because he wants to help the team and he’s not very productive right now. Hey, let it go, keep playing, you can do it, stay with it.”
Amidst all the struggles, Miles’ message to the team has been to stick with the program and ignore whatever talk there may be surrounding the program.
“Stick with it, stay positive,” Miles said. “There’s noise and the kids hear the noise and everybody hears the noise, but we can’t eat our own and be a successful society so we have to stay with it. And as we do this, I think it’s important — everybody faces adversity in life. So how do we stay strong, remain positive and find a way to be successful when you’re low-confidence? Success is earned. Nothing succeeds success; I remember saying that as a second grade teacher or fourth grade teacher or whatever it was. You can’t have that. We have to go out and play well and earn it.
“Now, we played harder against Wisconsin. We had a couple guys with their Superman capes on trying to do too much on offense and that’s just not the way it can work. We have to share it, trust each other, take the open shots when they’re there. Second of all, I thought Wisconsin made plays … The were big plays. I don’t think we did. We made hustle plays, but we don’t have that bravado yet and I think you earn that. I think we had it, and now it’s gone mysteriously. We’ve got to earn it back.”
The Huskers will get a chance to earn that bravado back against Illinois on Saturday afternoon. Illinois is first in the Big Ten in forcing turnovers, but they’re last in opponent field goal percentage and opponent free-throw attempts and 13th in opponent scoring. The Huskers should have plenty of opportunities to create quality looks if they can take care of the ball.
The trick is to get those looks to go down.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.