Nebraska’s 76-69 loss to Rutgers on Monday was a game of runs to the extreme.
Here are all of the runs from start to finish: 9-0 Nebraska, 8-0 Rutgers, 19-4 Nebraska, 15-0 Rutgers, 12-2 Nebraska, 8-0 Rutgers, 7-0 Rutgers, 8-1 Nebraska, 8-0 Rutgers.
Ultimately, two of those runs ended up making the difference — the 15-0 run by Rutgers late in the first half and the 8-0 run by Rutgers in the final minutes, and those are the two we’re focusing on here.
15-0 Rutgers Run
Nebraska had just ripped off a 19-4 run to take a 31-18 lead. The Huskers had the chance to take control and put the Scarlet Knights away right then and there. They don’t have the kind of offensive skill and talent that should allow for a big comeback against a quality defensive team.
Instead of continuing to build up that lead, however, Nebraska gave up 15 straight points. Just like that, in the span of two minutes, Rutgers turned a 13-point deficit into a two-point lead. What the heck happened?
After Glynn Watson Jr. knocked down a 3 to put the Huskers up 13, Rutgers went to Eugene Omoruyi in the mid-post against Isaac Copeland Jr. The 6-foot-7, 240-pound junior backed Copeland down a couple of times, pump-faked him off his feet and finished through the contact.
On the other end, Nebraska moved the ball around a bit but never really generated anything. Isaiah Roby got the ball on the wing and tried to make something happen off the dribble but got whistled for a double-dribble. Turnover No. 1.
Rutgers ran a back screen for center Myles Johnson (6-foot-10, 255 pounds) to get him a touch just outside the block (props to color commentator Stephen Bardo who called for getting Johnson a touch right before it happened). Roby got through the screen and reattached, bodying him up. Nana Akenten sunk as if to double, but doesn’t commit. Roby tried to get around Johnson for the steal but the big man was able to hold onto the ball and spin past Roby with Akenten not tight enough to cut him off, resulting in a two-handed slam.
Nebraska tried to run off the make with Watson looking to make the hit-ahead pass to Roby up the right side of the court, but the pass is way to high and skips out of bounds off Roby’s finger tips. Turnover No. 2.
The turnover led to the under-4 media timeout. After the break, Nebraska deployed some token pressure, although I couldn’t quite tell what kind of a press it was (1-2-2? 2-1-2? 1-2-1-1?) based on where the guys were standing. Regardless, Nebraska tried to trap in the frontcourt as well, near the right wing. The trap was slow and ineffective, Rutgers had the floor spaced well and the Scarlet Knights easily picked apart the Huskers, finding a wide open Ron Harper Jr. in the corner for a 3.
On offense, Nebraska ran a side pick-and-roll and James Palmer Jr. hit Roby on the short roll. Rutgers cut him off, however, and Akenten cut across the baseline to get the ball in the corner. Instead of keeping the ball moving, Akenten decided to ISO, trying a double-crossover step-back contested long 2 that clanged off the front of the rim. Notice the time left on the clock.
The next Rutgers possession was Nebraska’s only stop of this stretch, and it was more luck than anything. Rutgers got the ball to Johnson at the elbow and he hit Omoruyi with the high-low pass. Omoruyi’s layup rimmed out, however, and the rebound bounced to Nebraska.
Watson pushed the ball up the court, got a piece of the paint and found Palmer in the right wing for a trailer 3, which circled the rim and popped out. Nebraska’s first stop and first quality look happened after the Scarlet Knights had already scored eight straight on three possessions, with a timeout after the first two.
Rutgers grabbed the rebound off Palmer’s miss and pushed it up the floor, hitting Johnson down low. Palmer picked up Johnson in transition with Roby getting back a second late. Roby ran to the paint where Omoruyi was waiting and Harris sank into the paint as well.
Johnson kicked it back out to Harper and he swung the ball to Montez Mathis on the right wing. A poor closeout by Amir Harris (notice how far forward that right foot is) allowed Mathis to blow by him.
Harris compounded the mistake by hacking Harris from behind, resulting in an and-one.
Mathis made the free throw, and just like that it was a one-possession game.
On the next possession, Nebraska ran a pick-and-roll with Roby and Watson. The senior turned the corner off the screen and looked to get down hill but Mathis was helping way off Palmer on the right wing and dug in on Watson’s drive, potentially getting apiece of the ball. Either way, Watson lost the ball on the gather and it ended up going out of bounds off his body. Turnover No. 3.
Off the dead ball turnover, Nebraska switched to its 1-3-1 defense. Palmer at the point and Watson on the wing weren’t very aggressive, however, and Rutgers spaced the floor perfectly. Mathis dribbled at Roby and Watson and split the two with a bounce pass, hitting Johnson 10 feet from the basket.
Copeland slid over to cut off Johnson and Thomas Allen Jr. was too slow to drop on the back side. Johnson hit Shaq Carter with the easy bounce pass and Carter threw it down.
The run wasn’t over just yet, however. Nebraska ran a two-man game with Copeland and Palmer. Copeland hit lamer on a cut, Copeland’s man helps off him to double Palmer on the right side near the baseline, Palmer kicked it back out to Copeland on the wing and Copeland looked to put the ball on the deck and attack the closeout.
However, Harper isn’t respecting Allen at all and is helping 8 feet off him. Copeland either didn’t see him or didn’t care, and instead of swinging to Allen for the wide open 3, Copeland had his dribble knocked away by Harper.
Turnover No. 4, except this one was a live-ball turnover that gave Rutgers a two-on-one with Allen the only man back. Allen actually made a good play, nearly stripping Harper and forcing a wild missed layup, but Mathis was there for the easy tip-in. Timeout Nebraska trailing 33-31.
Just like that through a series of bad decisions, carelessness and poor defense, all that work Nebraska did to build up a double-digit lead was undone in the span of two minutes. Nebraska got one quality look that whole time and the Huskers missed that one too.
The rest of the game was close after that point. Momentum changed hands several times with a few more smaller runs, but neither side was really able to take control, culminating in a 67-all tie with 2:02 to play.
8-0 Rutgers Run
Nebraska missed its chance to put the Scarlet Knights away early, but it still had a chance to win the game late.
Two free throws from Palmer tied the game up. On the other end, Rutgers went inside to Omoruyi again against Copeland. He spun past Copeland but missed the shot. Copeland went up to grab the board, but Mathis crashed all the way from the left corner and knocked the ball free (Palmer stood and watched instead of boxing him out) and Omoruyi grabbed it then dished it over to Johnson for a dunk plus a foul from Palmer.
Johnson missed the free throw, but Rutgers still had the lead.
On the other end, Nebraska got the ball to Palmer on a hand-off and he curled to the paint for a floater. It wasn’t a terrible look, but it a 10-foot floater isn’ an easy one either. Notice all of the white jerseys in the paint, cutting off any dump-off passing lanes. Palmer missed and Rutgers secured the board.
Nebraska shot 40.9 percent from 3 for the game, but 4-of-13 in the second half and the Scarlet Knights simply did not respect Nebraska’s perimeter shooters, helping off them all night to protect the paint and take away driving lanes. Nebraska finished with just 24 points in the paint (to Rutgers’ 42).
Palmer ran into Peter Kiss chasing after his own miss, putting Kiss at the line for the double bonus with 1:20 to play. Kiss hit both shots to put Rutgers up four.
Rutgers called a 30-second timeout to set its defensive game plan and Miles drew up a play to get Copeland an open look for 3. Copeland set a down screen for Roby who popped to the left wing. Watson, who brought the ball down the court, passed to Roby then set a down screen for Copeland who popped to the top of the key for an open look.
The shot bounced off the heel of the rim and Johnson secured the board. Palmer fouled Johnson immediately and the big man split the free throws with 1:12 to play.
Nebraska ran a pick-and-pop with Copeland and he attacked the closeout by Omoruyi, looking for a quick 2. However, Johnson slid over in help and blocked his shot at the rim out of bounds. Nebraska went back to Copeland again with another down screen, he attacked the closeout by Johnson and took a step-back jumper form the elbow. It went halfway down before popping out.
Nebraska fouled Mathis and he missed both shots, leaving the door slightly ajar with 52.7 on the clock. Watson pushed the ball up the court, collapsed the defense and kicked to Copeland in the corner for a wide open 3. He missed.
Rutgers grabbed the rebound and pushed it up the floor, missing the layup and a put-back attempt, but the third time was the charm as Rutgers grabbed it again and put it back in, making it 74-67. Watson missed a deep 3 and that was all she wrote.
Copeland had a great first half with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting, but he scored just two points on 1-of-6 from the field in the second half. He got three really good looks in the clutch and couldn’t get any of them to fall.
Palmer’s missed box-out gave the Scarlet Knights control and Nebraska’s wo best players — Palmer and Copeland — simply couldn’t make the plays to match them late.
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.