Run it Back: Keys to Nebraska's Win at No. 25 Indiana
Photo Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski - USA TODAY Sports

Run it Back: Keys to Nebraska’s Win at No. 25 Indiana

January 15, 2019

Nebraska picked up a big win on Monday night, taking it to the 25th-ranked Indiana Hoosiers at Assembly Hall for a quadrant one win.

After dropping their first three conference road games in which the Huskers surrendered 84 points per game, Nebraska got back to its defensive roots and shut down the Indiana offense, holding the Hoosiers to their lowest point total of the season in a 66-51 win. Unfortunately, Nebraska’s greatest rival — the extended scoring drought — showed its face as well.

Defensively, the Huskers had a tremendous game plan. Indiana has two players averaging better than 16 points per game in freshman guard Romeo Langford and senior forward Juwan Morgan and nobody else in double digits on the season, and Nebraska was determined to make those other guys beat them.

The Huskers played strong help defense, willing to leave guys somewhat open on the perimeter to keep Langford and Morgan from getting good looks. Isaiah Roby, primarily guarding Indiana sophomore forward Justin Smith, played rover for most of the night, making it tough for Langford to find driving lanes or for Morgan to get clean post looks. The Huskers hedged hard on every screen (which Indiana really only took advantage of one time with a slip for a dunk by Morgan) to disrupt the offense, and it worked. Langford and Morgan combined for 35 points on 29 field goal attempts with one assist and five turnovers. Everyone else was 6-of-23 for 16 points and eight turnovers. Of course, Indiana missed a number of shots around the rim as well which certainly helped Nebraska’s defense look even better at the end of the game.

The man-to-man defense was strong, but Coach Tim Miles did a great job of mixing in the 1-3-1 zone he likes to use. I counted 12 possessions of 1-3-1, three in the first half and nine in the second. The results: four turnovers, two contested missed 3s, a blocked shot inside, two trips to the free throw line, a pull-up jumper by Langford, a dunk by Morgan after a bad bounce on a near turnover and then an an and-one inside. That adds up to 10 points on 12 possessions.

Nebraska’s defense out of the gate allowed the Huskers to jump out to a 25-7 lead. Offensively, according to my judgment, Nebraska generated good looks on 11 of their first 18 possessions (and scored on one or two of the tougher looks as well).

Then the offense ground to a halt. The Huskers went nearly eight-and-a-half minutes without a field goal, scoring one point during that span. Somehow, they didn’t give up the whole lead during that stretch as the defense didn’t slip, but 12 straight missed shots isn’t something one sees too often outside of complete mismatches.

What was the problem? The answer, for the most part, is shot-making. 

Nebraska made 12 trips down the floor during that field goal-less stretch. The Huskers got good looks on six or seven of them, yet they got one whole point out of it. Here’s the breakdown of Nebraska’s possessions:

  • 5 missed catch-and-shoot 3s
  • 4 contested misses at the rim
  • 2 missed 3s off the dribble (first should have been a catch-and-shoot look but Isaiah Roby dribbled out of it and took a step-back instead)
  • 1 missed tip-in
  • 1 foul drawn (split the free throws)
  • 3 sloppy turnovers

Indiana did a better job of challenging Nebraska at the rim than it did earlier in the half, but even so, Nebraska had plenty of chances to score and just couldn’t hit the shots. Yet Indiana only cut the lead to six before Isaac Copeland Jr. snapped the streak with the same kind of look Nebraska got plenty of throughout that drought — a catch-and-shoot 3. James Palmer Jr. put an exclamation point on the half with a driving right-handed jam.

Indiana made another push early in the second half, cutting Nebraska’s lead all the way down to three at 35-32. Nebraska generated just one good look on its first six possession, though Glynn Watson Jr. did hit a tough contested pull-up jumper in there as well.

After a deep 3 by Devonte Graham (Indiana’s second and final 3 of the game) made it 35-32, Nebraska settled in and Palmer hit Tanner Borchardt for a wide open layup off the pick-and-roll. Palmer followed that up with a much worse decision — a contested pull-up 3 that wasn’t even close — but Langford missed a 3 of his own on the other end and Thomas Allen Jr., who grabbed the board, pushed it up himself and hit Watson for a catch-and-shoot 3 in transition, which he buried. Borchardt helped force an Indiana turnover on the following possession which led to a two-on-one and a wide-open layup for Palmer.

Unfortunately, Palmer blew the layup. Sometimes it’s just your night, however, and Palmer got the ball back and found Watson in the corner for a wide open 3. Just like that, the lead was back to double digits at 43-32.

The Huskers continued to generate good looks the rest of the way and they converted the majority of them, preventing Indiana from making any more comeback attempts.

The final key to Nebraska’s success was its rebounding. The Huskers have been getting crushed on the glass for much of the season and they are still the worst rebounding team in the Big Ten. However, on Monday, the Huskers won that battle 40-31 overall and 11-9 on the offensive end. Nebraska gave up just eight second-chance points and scored 12 on their end of the floor.

Two guys needed to step up on that end in particular, and they did so in a big way. Palmer, a 6-foot-6 wing, is grabbing just 3.2 defensive rebounds per game. Copeland, Nebraska’s 6-foot-9 power forward, is at 3.8 defensive rebounds per game. Nebraska’s 6-foot point guard, Watson, is at 3.9, second only behind Roby’s 4.6.

Against Indiana, Palmer grabbed seven defensive rebounds and Copeland grabbed six. Five different guys grabbed four or more boards and nearly every player who saw the court grabbed at least one (Brady Heiman committed a foul chasing after an offensive board in his only minute of playing time). It was easy to see that crashing the glass was a big emphasis for the Huskers with the guards swarming to the ball and the bigs boxing out (Borchardt helped in that area after barely playing against Penn State).

Nebraska — which is sporting KenPom’s No. 9 overall adjusted offensive efficiency this season after Monday’s game — was merely average on offense against the Hoosiers with one really bad stretch. It was the defense that carried them and the rebounding that sealed the deal.

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