“It is kind of like we are starting over in a sense because of losing a key player like [Isaac] Copeland. It’s kind of like to start the season: you don’t know where you’re going to be at, where you’re going to find your shots.”
That’s how junior forward Isaiah Roby opened Nebraska’s post-game press conference after a 62-51 loss to Wisconsin in which nothing seemed to work offensively for long stretches in Nebraska’s first game since losing senior forward Isaac Copland to a torn ACL.
The Huskers (13-8, 3-7 Big Ten) generated decent looks for much of the night but struggled mightily to finish from everywhere on the court at Pinnacle Bank Arena, including at the rim and at the free-throw line. Nebraska shot a season-low 28.3 percent from the field including 4-of-20 from 3 and 13-of-20 from the free-throw line.
The Huskers’ defense gave them a chance to hang around, holding the Badgers (15-6, 7-3) to 62 points on 43.6 percent shooting, but a late Wisconsin run was too much for the Huskers to overcome.
“We quit scoring,” Coach Tim Miles said. “Certainly defensively, as I look at it, they were probably right at a point per possession or just under. I didn’t think defense was a problem. Now, Charlie Thomas hits a 3, [Nate] Reuvers hits a double-clutch 3. They made some plays; you have to credit them on some things. [Brad] Davison stepped into a deep 3 against our 1-3-1. I think we had the three-point lead when Charlie hit his 3 — that was a real spark for them. If you look at the outcome of the game after that, for them I think that was a nice springboard. Tanner [Borchardt] has got to stay in the game for us a little bit but getting back to the offense, Wisconsin does an excellent job but we have to take better shots.”
Isaiah Roby led all scorers with 18 points on 5-of-13 from the field and 7-of-9 from the free-throw line with nine rebounds, three assists, two blocks, one steal and just one turnover. Thomas Allen Jr. had 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting and four rebounds.
Senior guards James Palmer Jr. and Glynn Watson Jr. combined for 19 points on 7-of-29 from the field including 1-of-12 from deep with two assists and four turnovers.
“One thing we have to do is get guys like Glynn and James just to relax a little bit; not all of the burden is on you,” Miles said. “I thought that we took some quick shots trying to do some stuff too much tonight, trying to do our own thing and we just have to trust everybody.”
The Huskers won the battle of the boards 45 to 37, but Nebraska scored just seven second-chance points despite grabbing a season-high 18 offensive rebounds.
Sophomore wing Thorir Thorbjarnarson was the last scholarship player to check into the game, but he brought a big spark for the Huskers, grabbing a game- and career-high 10 rebounds with three points and one assist in a career-high 17 minutes.
“Losing a player like Copeland is really hard, especially with the kind of guy he is and what he does for the team and I wish him a speedy recovery,” Thorbjarnarson said. “I am thinking about him first. But, with him out we have to make some changes to our team and I knew, maybe, my shot was going to come. We have been struggling a little bit defensively on the rebounding, and so I just want to go in and hustle and give the team everything I’ve got. That is kind of how I feel like I played today.”
Nebraska showed some energy from the tip, securing four offensive rebounds on the first two possessions, and the Huskers switched up defenses every other possession or so with some early 1-3-1 and a couple different defenders on Wisconsin star center Ethan Happ.
Nebraska took an 8-7 lead at the under-16 timeout, but the Badgers put together a 14-0 run when play resumed, capped by a 3-pointer by Brad Davison. The Badgers knocked down three of their first four 3s while the Huskers missed their first six and 16 of their first 20 shots overall.
Borchardt, who started in place of Copeland, finally snapped the run with a free throw (aided by a lane violation on Happ) but Nebraska continued to struggle from the field, missing a few more shots at the rim before Palmer finally ended the drought with a shot off the glass at the 6:55 mark.
The field goal-less stretch lasted 7:48, allowing the Badgers to go on a 16-1 run and pull ahead 23-9. That shot by Palmer got the Huskers going a bit, though, as they responded with a 12-2 run including a blow-by slam from Roby against Happ. Nebraska held the Badgers without a field gaol for 6:16 before Brevin Pritzl got a 3-pointer to fall with just over a minute to play in the half.
“I feel like once we started playing a little more free and had good guys coming off the bench too so we started playing more like we should,” Roby said.
Neither team managed to score in the final minute and Wisconsin took a 28-21 lead into the locker room.
Nebraska shot 7-of-30 (23.3 percent) from the field including 1-of-8 from 3, and it only hit six of its 10 free throws as well. Wisconsin shot 11-of-27 (40.7 percent) overall and 4-of-13 from deep while only attempting four free throws, hitting two. Both teams turned the ball over five times. Nebraska grabbed nine offensive rebounds but only converted them into two points.
Thorjarnarson checked in and played the last seven minutes of the half, missing a layup early but grabbing four boards, dishing out an assist and bringing some energy to the court to help spark that late run.
Palmer hit his first two shots, a layup and a 3, to pull Nebraska within four at 30-26 but Happ scored a tough bucket over Borchardt then Palmer missed a runner and a put-back. The Huskers got a stop, however, and Watson found Roby for a 3 from the wing right in front of Nebraska’s bench, getting the fans on their feet and cutting the deficit to three.
Borchardt committed his third foul against Happ inside at the 16:38 mark, bringing Brady Heiman off the bench. Happ missed both free throws then Roby split a pair on the other end to make it 32-30. Roby scored again through contact to tie it up at 32-all. He missed the free-throw, but the Huskers got another stop and Roby pushed it up to Watson who finished the layup and sank the free-throw to take their first lead since 8-7 at 35-32.
D’Mitrik Trice nailed a 3 over a contest from the 6-foot-11 Heiman to tie it up again. Palmer converted a layup, but Charles Thomas IV tied it again with a put-back. Nebraska hit another rough stretch offensively, however, and Wisconsin used an 8-0 run to pull ahead 45-40. Roby swatted a shot from Happ at the rim, leading to a layup by Watson on the other end. A pair of free throws by Roby cut the deficit to four, but Wisconsin responded with a 7-0 run to pull ahead 55-44. Borchardt picked up his fifth foul during that stretch, taking a seat with six rebounds, one assist and one point in 15 minutes.
Roby grabbed a board, pushed it up court himself, Euro-stepped around a defender and finished with his left hand to end the run. Wisconsin missed the front end of the bonus on back-to-back possessions, but Nebraska failed to take advantage, coming up empty both times. After trading free throws, forward Nate Reuvers drilled a dagger 3 at the end of the shot clock, putting the Badgers up 60-48 with 2:17 to play. After another empty possession for the Huskers, Reuvers hit a jumper off the dribble to push the lead to 14 and both teams sent in their benches to close out the game.
The Huskers have now lost four straight and six of their last eight, and now they have to find a way to turn things around without their second-leading scorer.
“We have to stay positive,” Miles said. “That has been the theme since Ohio State, since Rutgers in terms of us staying in a good place. I thought we were pretty close tonight in terms of the whole night, being in a fighting mentality, staying together. I only saw a little bit on a couple times, and you do get stressed. It’s OK to be stressed out a little bit and then come back. But tonight was far better in terms of mentality than it had been previously. And that’s good.
“What we need to do is figure out the recipe for winning at Illinois and then whoever’s after that regardless of the outcome because if you start to get outcome-based thinking — we’ve been like that too much. When I look at this, I thought tonight was much better, staying in the moment, fighting back and doing some good things. But we have to get better; we have to come out on top.”
The Huskers will head to Champaign for a rematch on Saturday after beating Illinois 75-60 in Lincoln on Dec. 2. Tipoff is set for 1:15 p.m. 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.