The hits keep coming for Nebraska basketball, the latest being a meniscus injury in freshman guard Amir Harris’ knee suffered during Nebraska’s win against Iowa on Sunday, but the season rolls on and the short-handed Huskers are preparing for the Big Ten Tournament which begins on Wednesday.
It is unclear when Harris suffered the injury, but he finished out the game and scored the game-winning layup in overtime, falling two points shy of a double-double.
“Early in the second half he came into one of the huddles and he was finicking with his leg,” Coach Tim Miles said. “I’m not sure he knows but what had happened was overnight there was swelling. As it was examined, he wasn’t able to straighten it; usually that’s a meniscus and the MRI confirmed that. We’ll just get the swelling out and kind of go from there and proceed with surgery whenever. There are a couple options with surgery; one’s a little longer recovery than the other one.”
No matter which path they choose, Harris will be out for the Big Ten Tournament this week in Chicago. Sophomore Thomas Allen Jr., who Harris was starting for after Allen suffered an ankle sprain against Michigan, will not play on Wednesday and is doubtful if the Huskers were to advance. He did some rehab work on Tuesday after getting on the court for a bit on Monday, according to Miles.
“We just have to get him on the court, but I’m not going to put Tom in a bad position and ask him to go out there at 65 or 70 percent or less, which he’s probably less,” Miles said. “We’ll just see. Hopefully if there were postseason next week, he’d be ready.”
That leaves the Huskers with just eight healthy, eligible players including two walk-ons. One of those walk-ons, senior Johnny Trueblood, played 26 minutes against the Hawkeyes.
“I feel horrible for Amir, especially coming off such a great game,” Trueblood said. “He was just kind of finally finding his rhythm and then that happens to him. Now we’re at eight guys I think, eight available guys, so it’s going to be a total team effort now.”
Miles said sophomore Thorir Thorbjarnarson will start in Harris’ place, leaving freshman big man Brady Heiman, Trueblood and redshirt freshman walk-on Justin Costello on the bench. Miles is no stranger to making the most of a short bench.
“I remember at North Dakota State when we had to fill it out when we were going through the transition,” Miles said. “We redshirted a whole bunch of guys and we had to go through the same thing. The biggest thing is you want the guys that are able to play just to know that, listen, I’m going to probably ask you to do things that you’re unprepared to do, and that’s OK. I’m going to ask you to do them and I hope you do them well. I may even require you to do them well and you’re going to do it and it’s going to be a blast doing so. You’ve just got to roll with it, really.”
Despite the poor fortune that continues to hit the Huskers on the injury front, Trueblood said the Huskers are keeping their heads up this week.
“We’re all like in good spirits,” Trueblood said. “It’s just the next man up mentality, I guess. Everybody’s still just excited, like we know we can go on a little bit of a run here. It’s just a matter of putting five days in a row.”
Trueblood said the win over Iowa, in which the Huskers rallied from 16 down in the second half to send the game to overtime where they pulled out the win, gave the team the confidence to take on whatever awaits them in the postseason.
“We feel a lot more confident,” Trueblood said. “We’ve had a lot of games where we’ve gotten down and haven’t been able to kind of get over the hump. With Iowa, finally getting over that hump of coming back, we feel like we can play with anybody.”
With the structure of the Big Ten Tournament, twelfth-seeded Nebraska already knows who its first three opponents would be if the Huskers were to keep advancing — No. 12 seed Rutgers, No. 5 seed Maryland and No. 4 Wisconsin. The Huskers went 0-4 against those teams during the regular season.
“Here’s what I told them: we now what our next three opponents are so let’s prepare accordingly and just go with it,” Miles said. “Obviously we’ve got difficulties with each of them: if we talk about Rutgers, their physicality and their depth and all of those things that go with it are going to pose problems. But at the same time, as we go through and we practice today and we went through film, I think there’s some real adventure and fun to this too. I think that’s the way the guys look at it to — they want to keep playing.”
Nebraska fell at Rutgers 76-69 on Jan. 21 with Isaac Copeland Jr. still in the lineup. The Huskers shot under 42 percent form the field in that game and missed eight free throws.
“Rutgers did that to a lot of people at Rutgers, so I don’t think that was a lynchpin, so to speak. Is that the right word to say?” Miles said. “The way I look at it, they beat us, it’s our turn to make the adjustments and beat them. The same thing with Maryland, and then it’s Wisconsin. That’s the way we look at it.”
The Scarlet Knights outscored the Huskers 17 to seven in second chance points and dominated in the point with a 42-24 edge in the team’s first meeting this season.
“They’re physical, they’re big, they rebound very well, so that’s an emphasis that we’ve been talking about is rebounding,” Trueblood said.
Rutgers will be one man short as well on Wednesday as reserve forward Issa Thiem has been dismissed from the program after being arrested on domestic violence charges. Thiam, a 6-foot-10 wing, was averaging 3.8 points and 2.3 rebounds in 17 minutes per game. He did not score in eight minutes against the Huskers in January.
The string of injuries has placed even more responsibility on Nebraska’s senior guards, James Palmer Jr. and Glynn Watson Jr. Miles said he’s told them he needs 50 points from the duo at every practice, and they’ve delivered in the last two games. The pair combined for 55 points on 41 field goal attempts in the loss at Michigan State and they had 50 points on 39 shots in the win against Iowa.
“The care factor is way up for them, which is good, and I think that says a lot about them as young people,” Miles said. “I know they’re going to flourish even after college but they want this to go really well.”
Tipoff at the United Center on Wednesday is set for 5:30 p.m. CT on BTN with Brandon Gaudin and Shon Morris on the call.
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.