Padding the Stats: No Need for Supermen
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Run it Back: Huskers Let It Fly

December 11, 2018

Nebraska doesn’t have another game until Sunday, so let’s look back at that win over Creighton once again, shall we?

Over the last several years, Creighton has been known for its up-tempo offense and its 3-point shooting. #LetItFly is one of the hashtags the team and its fans use on Twitter. Heading into Saturday, the Bluejays were shooting 48.5 percent from deep, second in the country.

On Saturday, Nebraska beat the Jays at their own game, however, and the result was a 94-75 blowout in favor of the Huskers that snapped Creighton’s winning streak at seven. Creighton did shoot 11-of-27 (40.7 percent) from deep (season-high in both makes and percentage against Nebraska’s defense), but the Huskers one-upped their neighbors to the northeast, shooting 14-of-27 (51.9 percent). Prior to the game, Nebraska was shooting 33.5 percent and James Palmer Jr., who connected on six of his seven treys on Saturday, was 13-of-56 (23.2 percent) heading into that game.

How did the Huskers manage to rain fire on Saturday? Let’s take a look at the film to find out.

First 3: James Palmer Jr.

Palmer set the tone for the game on Nebraska’s first possession. The Huskers got the ball to Isaiah Roby at the top of the key and he dribbled into a hand-off for Palmer, who settled down for in ISO instead of turning the corner and getting down-hill. Ty-Shon Alexander was playing a step or two off of him, so Palmer went for the step-back. Cash.

3-0 Nebraska.

Second 3: James Palmer Jr.

The second one was a complete break down by Creighton on a simple but effective action by the Huskers. 

The Huskers moved the ball around and it found its way into Roby’s hands. The junior put the ball on the deck, got to the middle of the floor and kicked it across to Glynn Watson Jr. 

Palmer, the one who passed it to Roby in the first place, was at the top of the key. His defender, Damien Jefferson, dropped to the free-throw line to stop Roby’s drive and remained in help as Watson caught the ball. Roby and Palmer both saw that Jefferson was ball-watching, and so was Roby’s defender, Martin Krampelj. So Roby set a flare screen for Palmer as the senior relocated to the wing.

Watson threw the skip pass to a wide open Palmer as an unsuspecting Jefferson got caught on Roby’s screen and couldn’t get there in time to offer up a meaningful contest.

Once again, money. Great offensive execution by the Huskers to take advantage of the way Creighton was defending.

6-4 Nebraska.

Third 3: James Palmer Jr. again

This possession was just a simple pick-and-roll, and the Huskers got an open look out of it because of the way Creighton was defending those screens.

Roby set a high ball-screen for Watson and Krampelj hard-hedged, though Mitch Ballock held his ground instead of doubling Watson. The point guard kept his dribble alive until Krampelj cut off his pursuit and returned to his man. In the meantime, the other Bluejays – including Palmer’s man Alexander – helped off into the paint.

Watson saw how far Alexander was playing off Palmer and kicked the ball out to him. He stepped into the shot and nailed it over a late contest by Alexander, who is a good two inches shorter than Palmer.

9-6 Nebraska.

Fourth 3: Glynn Watson Jr.

Creighton hedged screens with their centers, but switched with everyone else since they play four guards most of the time. Nebraska took advantage of that a few times as well.

Roby (playing the four with Tanner Borchardt also on the court) set a screen for Watson and Jefferson switched onto him. Watson dribbled in place for a second, saw that Jefferson was playing a step or two off of him and saw an opening.

He pulled it right over the top of Jefferson’s late contest and buried it.

21-12 Nebraska.

Fifth 3: Thomas Allen Jr.

The fifth 3 was the same as the fourth, only with a different player at a different spot on the floor.

The Huskers passed the ball around a few times until it found its way into Thomas Allen Jr.’s hands, and he ran a pick-and-roll, getting the switch with Jefferson. Allen sized the 6-foot-5 Jefferson up, saw how much space he had and pulled up from a step behind the arc.

27-14 Nebraska.

Sixth 3: Isaac Copeland Jr.

On this one, Nebraska took advantage of Creighton’s pick-and-roll coverage once again.

The Huskers ran a side pick-and-roll with Allen and Brady Heiman, and Krampelj hard-hedged the screen again, pushing Allen out towards the middle of the floor.

Heiman rolled to the rim and Jefferson, who was guarding Roby, helped off into the paint to tag the roll man. Allen passed across to Isaac Copeland Jr. with Connor Cashaw guarding him.

Copeland swings the ball to Roby in the corner as Watson cut through and Jefferson hustled to get back out to him. Roby attacked the close-out and Cashaw helped all the way down below the free-throw line to stop Roby’s drive.

Roby read the play and kicked it to Copeland, who stepped into a catch-and-shoot 3. Cashaw tried to recover, but he’s only 6-foot-5 and Copeland is 6-foot-9.

30-14 Nebraska.

Seventh 3: Nana Akenten

Sophomore Nana Akenten is second on the team in 3-point percentage and third in makes, so it’s only right that he managed to get into the act as well.

Copeland set a simple down screen for Akenten, and Alexander went around the inside of the screen instead of chasing Akenten. Watson hit Akenten between the top of the key and the wing and the sophomore rose up to shoot.

Alexander did manage to get there in time to offer up a contest, but like Palmer, Akenten has two inches on him and shoots from above his head anyway, so Alexander didn’t bother him much at all to push Nebraska’s lead to 21 for the first time.

37-16 Nebraska.

Eighth 3: James Palmer Jr.

Second-chance 3s are always killers for a defense, and Nebraska got a few of those on Saturday.

Copeland actually missed a good look from the corner on a drive-and-kick from Palmer with Ballock helping off Copeland, but Borchardt out-battled two Jays to come down with the board and get Nebraska another possession.

Borchardt kicked the ball out to Allen who looked to attack, and Ballock helped again even though Davion Mintz had the drive pretty much contained.

Allen kicked it out to Palmer and the senior knocked down the shot over another late contest for his fourth triple of the first half.

43-21 Nebraska.

Ninth 3: James Palmer Jr.

Palmer didn’t cool down any during halftime. He hit Nebraska’s first 3 in the second half as well.

Off a baseline out of bounds play, Nebraska got the ball in to Roby on the wing with Epperson defending him. Roby tok one dribble at Epperson and Alexander helped all the way off Palmer to prevent a drive. Roby passed it to Palmer at the top of the key and he took a shot from the western border of the state outline at center court.

55-42 Nebraska.

10th 3: Glynn Watson Jr.

Most of Nebraska’s 3s came in the halfcourt, but this next one was a transition look (even though they didn’t classify it as a fast break bucket in the official box score, which makes no sense whatsoever).

Anyway, Creighton threw a lob for center Jacob Epperson but he mis-handled it and couldn’t finish. Allen grabbed the ball and pushed it up the floor. Jefferson runs alongside Allen, but doesn’t make an effort to get in front and stop the ball. Ballock saw Allen coming with a free lane so he slowed down to stop the ball instead, leaving no one to pick up Watson streaking up the sideline.

Allen pushed the ball up to Watson on the wing and he caught and fired before Ballock could recover enough to impact the shot.

60-47 Nebraska.

11th 3: Thomas Allen Jr.

This one was a gift. Creighton had secured the ball but the outlet pass got picked off. Creighton scrambled to pick up the Huskers defensively as Watson found his way into the paint then kicked it out to a wide open Allen in the corner.

65-52 Nebraska.

12th 3: Glynn Watson Jr.

This one was another second-chance 3, and again it was Borchardt who snagged the offensive rebound. He kicked it out to Copeland, who swung it to Watson, who gave it back to Copeland.

Copeland attacked Samson Froling off the dribble and got into the paint before kicking out to Allen in the corner. Marcus Zegarowski recovered well enough to prevent an open look, so Allen put the ball on the deck too and tried to get into the paint.

Alexander got caught ball-watching and Watson, realizing that, relocated to the wing where Allen found him for the open look.

70-56 Nebraska.

13th 3: Isaac Copeland Jr.

This next 3 was the final dagger, and it was another second-chance opportunity. Allen missed a tough step-back 3 in the corner as he tried to beat the shot clock, but Roby grabbed the board and kicked it back out to Allen. The Huskers moved the ball a few times and it ended up in a dribble hand-off from Roby to Palmer.

Palmer took the ball and took a dribble forward, then went behind his back and changed directions, gaining half a step on Alexander. Jefferson fills the gap, helping off Copeland, though Alexander had recovered well enough to get his body between Palmer and the rim. 

Palmer read the help and kicked it out to Copeland who relocated closer to the corner for the catch-and-shoot look.

84-70 Nebraska.

14th 3: James Palmer Jr.

It’s only fitting that Nebraska’s last 3 came courtesy of Palmer.

All five guys touched the ball before Palmer ran a pick-and-roll with Roby from the right wing. Roby’s man, Christian Bishop held back below the arc as Roby set the screen while Palmer’s defender, Kaleb Joseph, went over the top. 

For a moment, Palmer had a clean look at the rim, and he pulled it.

Good night, Creighton.

94-72, Nebraska.

Common Thread

After the game, a reporter asked Tim Miles about Creighton being more willing to give up perimeter looks than driving lanes.

“I don’t know that anybody was willing to give us anything,” Miles responded. “I think that our guys shared the ball pretty well. I think our assist were decent — we had 15 assists on 32 field goals, not bad. When you look at things, as you share the ball I think you’re more likely to get that open rhythm shot.”

There’s no doubt that Nebraska shared the ball well, and as I showed above, a lot of Nebraska’s looks were open catch-and-shoot opportunities. That was somewhat by design for Creighton, according to Coach Greg McDermott, and the strategy backfired.

“Nebraska played great,” McDermott said. “We were concerned with their dribble penetration and their ability to get to the free-throw line, so we tried to plug up the lane a little bit early. To their credit, they made us pay with the 3-point shot and that kind of got the crowd into the game and got us off to a rough start and we were fighting an uphill battle the rest of the game.”

Creighton played tight gap defense all night, often when help might not even have been needed. The combination of that and some poor positioning or poor attention or awareness resulted in open looks all night for the Huskers, and they knocked those looks down at a higher rate than they had all season.

Nebraska let it fly on Saturday night and took down the Jays in a shoot-out, giving them a taste of their own medicine.

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