Coach Tim Miles’ goal this week in practice was to “toughen up” his team. Miles said he didn’t have the team ready for the physicality of the last few conference games. He said he thought their practices had been better this week and hoped that would translate to better results against Ohio State.
Nebraska lost to the Buckeyes — who arrived in Lincoln riding a five-game losing streak and who had lost a starter to injury two games prior — 70-60 at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Saturday. The Huskers got smashed on the glass by an Ohio State team that had struggled to rebound all year (and that was mostly with the 6-foot-8 Kyle Young in the lineup). The struggled to finish at the basket against the worst shot-blocking team in the Big Ten. They scored 60 points against a team that had been giving up just over 70 per game in Big Ten play.
What’s the most frustrating part of the recent struggles?
“Just knowing that we’re just blowing opportunities,” junior forward Isaiah Roby said. “We know every game’s going to be tough in this season but we’re getting less and less opportunities to make a name for ourselves and to make some momentum.”
Nebraska lost senior forward Isaac Copeland Jr. to a left knee injury early in the second half. After the game, Miles said they did not yet know the severity of the injury but that it “could be severe.” Nebraska scheduled an MRI for later on Saturday to learn more.
Nebraska shot 36.2 percent from the field including 8-of-22 from 3 and only attempted 12 free throws, hitting 10 of them. Ohio State shot 41.4 percent including 9-of-27 from 3 and was 13-of-18 from the foul line.
James Palmer Jr. led the Huskers with 19 points on 7-of-17 shooting (3-of-6 from 3) and just 2-of-3 from the foul line with four assists and two turnovers. Glynn Watson Jr. had 18 points on 5-of-10 from the field and 7-of-7 from the foul line. The rest of the Huskers totaled 23 points on 9-of-31 shooting with eight turnovers. According to Nebraska’s shot charts, the Huskers shot 11-of-28 within about 10 feet of the rim.
“Right now it feels to me and looks to me like we just can’t get out of our own way,” Miles said. “I thought we looked like a frustrated team and a team that’s just mentally not focused on ‘Hey, let’s play with great effort, let’s play with great energy.’ We’ve seen these guys play so well, but we can’t brain-freeze ourselves … We can’t have that.”
Ohio State rebounded 14 of its 34 missed shots, which is 41.2 percent. Miles said the team’s goal is allowing no more than 26 percent on the offensive glass. Seven of the nine Buckeyes who played in the game are 6-foot-6 or shorter, yet Ohio State outscored Nebraska 14 to two in second-chance points. The Huskers either failed to box out or tipped rebounds around instead of grabbing them all night, leading to a bronx cheer from the crowd late in the second half when Thomas Allen Jr. finally secured a rebound after the Huskers had already given up a board earlier in the possession.
“It felt to me like there or four times at least the ball hits the rim, we had three guys and we’re just looking at the ball,” Miles said. “When you’re looking and not acting — how’s it go? There are people that make things happen and there are people that wonder what happened, right? It looks to me like we wondered what happened.”
Nebraska contained Ohio State’s leading scorer, sophomore center Kaleb Wesson (6-foot-9, 270 pounds), limiting him to seven points on 3-of-8 shooting with four turnovers in 25 minutes. However, freshman guard Luther Muhammad went off for 24 points on 7-of-12 shooting including 3-of-4 from 3 and 7-of-8 from the foul line. His previous high was 15 points against High Point.
Miles said it looked to him like the Huskers were playing tight. Why?
“They want to be special, they want to go to the NCAA Tournament, they want to do exceptional things,” Miles said.
Saturday’s final result was disappointing for Miles and the Huskers, but the day was also bigger than basketball as it was part of the nationwide Coaches vs. Cancer initiative aimed at raising awareness and funding for cancer research.
“The greatest feeling today was Avery Harriman’s hug,” Miles said. “Seeing Katie Jewell, who’s fighting it, and she’s so valuable to our athletic department. She evaluates transcripts and gives us great information on helping guys and making sure they’re going to check all the boxes to get into Lincoln and be eligible. Brent Bargum fighting it. Coached Division I, Division II at Chadron, we played against him when I was at Colorado State. Anything we can do to help is important.”
Ohio State opened the game by going inside to Kaleb Wesson and he dropped in a jump hook over Isaiah Roby to open the scoring, but Nebraska countered with an 8-0 run featuring a pair of 3s, a layup and two Ohio State turnovers.
Then the Huskers got a little sloppy themselves, missing a 3, turning the ball over twice and missing a contested shot at the rim. Ohio State used a 7-0 run to pull ahead 9-8 at the under-16 timeout, but Nebraska got Copeland an open look from 3 out of the break and he knocked it down, then Palmer scored to put the Huskers up 13-9. Ohio State answered with a 3, then both teams went ice cold.
Nearly three minutes passed with zero points as Nebraska missed six straight shots (most of them at the rim) while Ohio State turned it over a few more times. Nebraska led 13-12 at the under-12 timeout.
After the break, Nebraska scored on three of its first four possession to pull ahead 19-12 before Ohio State ended its nearly 5-minute drought with a layup by Keyshawn Woods, then Woods followed that up with a 3-pointer to cut Nebraska’s lead to two. Palmer answered with his second triple of the game with just over 8 minutes to play in the half.
Nebraska scored just two points the rest of the way as the Buckeyes closed the half on a 12-2 run to take a 29-24 lead into the locker room. With Nebraska leading 22-21, Allen turned the ball over and Ohio State took it the other way. Watson sprinted back to contest the shot and Allen got the chase-down block, but the other three Huskers didn’t cross halfcourt and Ohio State got the uncontested put-back to take the lead.
Miles called a timeout and yanked Copeland and Roby for Tanner Borchardt and Brady Heiman, though Nebraska’s offensive woes continued. The starting frontcourt didn’t return until the 1:17 mark of the half with Nebraska down 27-24, though Nebraska still didn’t score after their return.
The Huskers shot 4-of-10 from deep int he first half but only converted six of their 19 attempts inside the arc to shoot 34.5 percent overall and they did not attempt a free throw. Nebraska only turned the ball over five times while Ohio State gave it away nine, but Nebraska only had a nine to eight edge in points off those turnovers.
Ohio State grabbed eight offensive rebounds to just two for Nebraska and the Buckeyes out-scored the Huskers 7-0 with those extra opportunities. The Buckeyes didn’t shoot much better — 41.9 percent including 2-of-12 from 3 — but it was enough for a five-point lead.
Nebraska opened the second half with a kick-out corner 3 by Copeland and a stop. Copeland got called for a travel on his next possession, and after the whistle he went up for a dunk but came down awkwardly and appeared to injure his knee. Tanner Borchardt checked in for him and tied the game up with a layup, drawing a quick timeout by Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann. Copeland went back to the locker room during the timeout but later returned to the bench.
Nebraska took its first lead of the half at 34-33 on a corner 3 by Palmer but Ohio State answered with a 3 by Andre Wesson. Roby took it to the rim for a layup to tie it up then Watson hit two free throws for a 38-36 lead.
Ohio State countered with an 8-0 run that gave them the lead for good. The Huskers turned the ball over three times during that stretch. Nebraska got two free throws by Watson and one by Tanner Borchardt (on a hook and hold flagrant foul against Kaleb Wesson) to cut the deficit to three but Ohio State hit a 3 on its next four possessions to pull ahead 56-43.
“One guy, Isaiah over-helped to [Jaedon] LeDee when he didn’t need to and lost [Andre] Wesson. Muhammad, Wesson just nailed Glynn on the down screen and the way the angle is, if he gets that screen, he’s going to get the open look and he made it. I don’t know what his numbers are, but he’s not in the 40s, so I think that was very good execution. And then [Kaleb] Wesson got one on Tanner — Tanner was kind of playing off him a little bit, naturally so. Those are three of them, and I think Muhammad got the other one.”
Watson tried to get Nebraska back into it, scoring six straight by himself with a three-point play and a 3-pointer, but Ohio State answered with a shot clock buzzer-beating 3 that hit every bit of the rim and bounced off the glass before falling through, pushing the lead back to 10.
Palmer missed the front end of the bonus, but Nebraska forced a turnover and Watson scored at the rim with just over 3 minutes to play. Nebraska nearly forced Kaleb Wesson into a travel in the post, but Roby left his feet and was whistled for a foul, giving the Buckeyes a new shot clock, and Jackson scored inside to push it back to 10.
“I think one of those moments, for instance, we got it back down to seven with four-and-a-half to go and the shot clock’s all the way down and they hit the back of the rim, goes straight up and falls through right at the end of the shot clock, we go down and miss a bonus,” Miles said. “Those things, when they happen in couples like that, when you can’t get out of your own way, I think everybody just feels like, ‘Ugh, what’s going on?’”
Ohio State left the jar slightly ajar with a couple of turnovers, but Nebraska turned it over once itself and missed a 3 before Palmer got a transition layup to fall. Nebraska fouled and Luther Muhammad split his free throws then Allen knocked down a 3 to cut it to six with 58.3 to play, but the Buckeyes made enough free throws to seal the deal and Nebraska couldn’t get any close than that.
Ohio State mixed in a lot of 2-3 zone throughout the game, especially in the second half, and Nebraska struggled to consistently create offense against it, either turning the ball over or missing shots when they created good looks.
Miles said heading into the game getting the bench — and freshman Brady Heiman specifically — more involved was one of his goals, and he got 51 minutes out of those bench players, though Copeland’s injury played a big part in Tanner Borchardt’s career-high 25 minutes. Heiman played nine minutes including seven in the first half. Borchardt gave the Huskers three points, eight rebounds, a steal and an assist. The other bench players totaled zero points on 0-of-6 from the field with three rebounds and a steal.
“What I wanted to do tonight was get the bench more involved,” Miles said. “I got them 52 minutes and you saw the production. That’s what hurt us in the first half to — we knew we needed that to be able to survive in the second half. So we need more bench production. Does that mean we need to feature some of those guys instead of our main guys at different times when they’re in the game and things like that. I don’t know that we’ve done a great job of that, to be able to get Nana Akenten an open jumper here or there. We’ve run things for him but not on a regular basis.
Nebraska has lost five of its last seven and will now play host to Wisconsin on Tuesday. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. CT on BTN.
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.