Padding the Stats: Isaiah Roby One-Ups Himself Against Penn State
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Padding the Stats: Isaiah Roby One-Ups Himself Against Penn State

January 11, 2019

Isaiah Roby had arguably his best game of the season on Sunday in the loss to Iowa, and I wrote about it

Well, he one-upped himself in Thursday’s win against Penn State so it’s only right for me to write about him again.

Roby finished with a career-high 22 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks, two steals and an assist. And unlike his previous career-high of 20 set just a few games ago against Cal State Fullerton, which was more a case of volume than effectiveness, Roby made the most of his scoring opportunities, converting eight of his nine field goal attempts and finishing without a single turnover. 

That was the Isaiah Roby I was expecting to see this year after a break-out sophomore season. We’ve seen momentarily flashes, but overall, Roby hadn’t seemed to make much of a leap. All the little weaknesses from last year that kept him from making an even bigger impact than he did were all still present, and on top of that, his jumper had abandoned him after he shot 40.5 percent from 3 last year. 

Against the Hawkeyes, much of Roby’s success came against zone defenses, which provides different looks for a player like Roby than he would see against man-to-man. Because of that, Coach Tim Miles said there wasn’t a whole lot to take away from that game that might carry over moving forward. 

Even so, Roby found a way to dominate that game on both ends of the floor, and it started with the jump shot. (Here’s a thread on Twitter highlighting some of his best plays).

Early in the game, Nebraska ran a pick-and-pop with Roby flashing to the 3-point line. He caught the ball a couple feet behind the line with some space and 20 seconds on the shot clock, but never looked at the rim and quickly moved the ball. That is something we’ve seen from Roby all year — turning down open looks from the 3-point line, often driving into a defender who is playing the drive instead of closing out hard. Usually, that gets him nowhere.

However, Roby got the ball back near the right corner later in that possession with 10 seconds on the clock, and this time he roses up without hesitation and knocked down the shot. Suddenly, he’s a shooting threat, and that is tough for opposing centers to deal with. 

“I felt like that the past couple of games to be honest,” Roby said. “I felt pretty aggressive and pretty confident. That first 3 definitely helped. Making your first shot is always a good sign, so that definitely helped.”

Soon after, Roby caught the ball in the same spot where he hit his first 3 and a sight head fake was enough to get Penn State center Mike Watkins to jump at him. That’s when the driving opportunities present themselves, and Roby put the ball on the deck, got past Watkins and avoided the help defender digging in for an impressive finish at the rim.

Later, Roby got the same pick-and-pop look above the break that he turned down the first time, and this time he let it fly without hesitation. He missed, but that was still an important shot for him to take, and it proved to be his only miss of the game.

In total, Roby had seven spot-up opportunities where he caught the ball and looked to do something with it. He hit all three of his shots including two 3-pointers.Twice he tried to drive and lost the handle — though he retained possession — and twice he ended up driving and passing out.

He got the ball in pick-and-pop situations four times, missing that 3-pointer mentioned above, scoring on a  drive once, drawing a foul on one and going nowhere with the other. He scored once on a mid-post face-up situation, scored once on a tip-in (and grabbed four other offensive rebounds), finished one pick-and-roll opportunity with a reverse layup and threw down a dunk on a smart cut. 

He still turned down a look here or there, but Roby was confident and aggressive, and his early 3s set the tone for the rest of the game and unlocked the rest of his arsenal as Penn State’s centers had to close out a bit harder to take way the 3. Roby said the coaches have been in his ear about being more aggressive, and it’s showed in recent games.

“They know I’m plying out of position, so teams are going to try to exploit my being undersized, so they want me to exploit them the same way they’re trying to exploit us,” Roby said.

Defensively, Roby did give up a few buckets simply because Watkins was bigger than him, but he certainly won that battle. He was a force all game long.

Roby was involved in 21 possession-ending plays by my count. Just five of them ended up in buckets and two ended up in shooting fouls. Roby blocked four shots, altered three others and challenge four more that didn’t go in, and he forced three turnovers as well. Penn State scored less than 0.6 points per possession when Roby was involved in the play.

Roby managed to stay out of foul trouble and played a career-high 38 minutes as a result, playing out the entire second half. He only committed one “dumb” foul, giving up an and-one after getting out of position, and din’t pick up his second foul until the final minute of the first half.

“Every season for me has been different,” Roby said. “I’ve had different roles now on every team and this team’s a lot different than last year’s. I think it just took me a while to find my spots and it took some of my teammates a while to find their spots as well. I think we struggled early on offensively as a whole and I think now we’re just starting to roll a little bit better and people are starting to find our spots. Just progressing through the season, I think we’re trying to get even better.”

Roby’s impact went beyond the box score as well. With a couple of his teammates struggling a bit, Roby was the one picking everyone up, both on the court with his play and on the sideline with his actions in the huddle.

“I just thought Roby’s energy level was so good, I really did,” Miles said. “I don’t know if you saw his body language like I did, but everything was positive with him. You come sit down in the timeout, he’s the one talking. He’s the one making plays. Some other guys you could see were a little frustrated.”

If this is the version of Roby Nebraska is going to get moving forward, the Huskers are going to be a tough out. The running joke around Nebraska basketball media and fans is the question of whether Roby knows how good he is, pointing to his flashes of brilliance in between stretches of just OK play. It’s both a compliment and a shot. Roby hears that talk, and the coaches want him to take it more as the latter than the former.

“That’s what the coaches kind of challenged me to do this year is take that as less of a compliment, because obviously I’m a junior; I should be doing the type of stuff I’m doing now,” Roby said. “They tell me to take it badly now.”

Last season, Roby scored in double figures in his last eight games, the longest such streak of his career. Currently, he’s riding a four-game double-digit streak. If he continues at this pace, all of Nebraska’s preseason goals are not he table.

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