Come freezing rain or snow, Pinnacle Bank Arena will be hosting a basketball game on Saturday afternoon as the No. 15 Purdue Boilermakers (19-7, 12-3 Big Ten) have already arrived in Lincoln to take on the Huskers (15-12, 5-11).
The Boilermakers survived a 48-46 rock fight against Indiana on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Huskers are coming off a 95-71 blowout loss at last-place Penn State.
“I was extremely disappointed,” Coach Tim Miles said. “Honestly, as a coach, you always want to have a solution and I remember looking at Michael [Lewis] and [Armon] Gates and Mo [Jim Molinari] and none of us had a real good idea. I tried to motivate them, we watched film at halftime, I yelled at them. We tried a little bit of everything but that’s where we have to have more resilience and just more internal toughness. I don’t know if we were surprised they played as well they did, but I think we had a lot to do with that.”
Miles said he looked over the film and only pulled out the “best stuff” to show the team, and he shared what he learned from that film.
“We need to play a lot harder and compete a lot harder and nothing’s easy,” Miles said. “Whatever your mentality was, once you get punched in the mouth, if you run form the sight of your own blood, you’re really in trouble.”
Junior forward Isaiah Roby didn’t really have an explanation for the lackluster effort against the Nittany Lions; he was just as surprised as the coaches.
“I’m not really sure, to be honest,” Roby said. “I felt like we were in a good spot going into the game and I felt like we had a good mindset going into the game. I think when they came out so hot and we weren’t able to get it going on offense, I think just the morale on the team kind of went down and instead of playing harder we kind of just were out there.”
Roby said the team just wasn’t on the same page once they got out on the court, and mentioned frustration as a potential reason for the disconnect.
“I think we were all on different pages — players to players, coaches to players, I think we were all… We weren’t doing stuff that we had talked about in practice and nobody corrected it on the court,” Roby said. “We weren’t talking to each other on the court, trying to coach each other, be five coaches on the court as well. We’ve got to do a better job of communicating.”
The Huskers gave the Boilermakers a fight for about 25 minutes at Purdue on Feb. 10 before star guard Carsen Edwards got loose and led his team to an 81-62 win, outscoring the Huskers by 17 in the second half.
“I think we can beat any team we play. Any team that’s on the court with us I feel like we can beat,” Roby said. “It’s just a matter of putting it all together for 40 minutes. Even when we lost to Michigan State here, it was kind of the same thing — we were with it and then they would make a run. Whenever we relax is when teams tale advantage and make a run on us so we’ve got to be able to string it together for 40 minutes.”
Edwards, a 6-foot-1 junior guard, leads the way at 23.8 points per game and is taking over 10 3s per game, connecting at a 35.4 percent clip. Senior guard Ryan Cline is second on the team at 12.2 points per game and no one else scores more than eight points per game. Is the game plan to focus on Edwards and make the supporting cast beat you, or will the Huskers look to shut everyone else down and let Edwards get his in one-on-one situations?
“They’ve got enough skill and size that it makes it a little bit difficult,” Miles said. “I think the verdict is if you can get to Carsen, it makes it really difficult on them. Indiana I thought did a terrific job of that, but he’s a hard guy to get under control. He’s one of the country’s best players, an All-American. But that is a challenge. You can’t let him go out and get 40 because regardless, you’re not going to shut the rest of the guys out. They’re a great offensive rebounding team. They find those other ways from the chalice of easy baskets, they get fouled and they get offensive rebounds and they’re pretty good in transition. You have to get to them all.”
One player who did show some fight once he got on the floor was Amir Harris. The freshman guard is back to full health after missing a month with mono and played a career-high 23 minutes against Penn State, stuffing the stat sheet with four points, two rebounds, two blocks, a steal and an assist.
“Just more confidence, getting on the floor more,” Miles said. “Amir has done what we’ve asked him to do. He’s Nojel Eastern in the scout team and now we’re going to ask him to turn around and guard him for 20 minutes or 30 minutes or whatever it is. I think that he is as strong as he was going in; I think he’s back to where he was around Clemson or whoever it was when he went down.”
Outside of the win against Minnesota, Nebraska’s senior guards continue to struggle offensively as James Palmer Jr. is scoring but thing a lot of possessions to do so and Glynn Watson Jr. just isn’t scoring all that much. The Huskers have started using more dribble weave action in recent games, and Miles suggested another offensive change that he’s considering.
“We can put [Palmer] at the point, see if we can get Glynn off the ball some, Miles said. “Nobody’s even close to satisfied with the way we’re playing on offense or defense so you juts keep working. Maybe put James on the ball, get Glynn off the ball, things like that. James makes good decisions and the right play often. We just need to step into our shots and believe it too.”
Tipoff on Saturday is set for 1 p.m. CT at Pinnacle Bank Arena. The game will be televised on BTN with Kevin Kugler and Shon Morris 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.