LINCOLN, Neb. — The final score may have been much closer than it should have against a sub-.500 SWAC team, but there were definite signs of progress in Nebraska’s 81-76 win against Southern.
First of all, it wasn’t a loss. That’s definitely progress after what happened at PBA on Sunday.
Second of all, a lot of the things I highlighted in my last Run it Back column were addressed, at least in part. Heck, Tim Miles killed two birds with one stone by giving the freshmen playing time, which resulted in four 3-pointers by Jeriah Horne.
Nebraska still didn’t shoot well as a team (31.8 percent), but two players did get hot and that was enough to get the job done. Horne and Anton Gill combined to shoot 6-of-9 from deep off the bench. Glynn Watson Jr. knocked down his only attempt from deep, but the rest of the team combined to shoot 0-of-12. The seven triples is the third-most of the season for Nebraska and enough to negate the seven bombs by Southern.
For most of the season, the Nebraska offense has consisted of Tai Webster carrying the load, and perhaps one or two others having a good day. However, on Tuesday night, Webster was off. He went scoreless in the first half, with three of his four shots coming behind the arc.
With their senior leader out of sync, the rest of the squad stepped up. Seven different Huskers scored in the first half, including four of the five players off the bench. Jack McVeigh continued to struggle, but the freshmen more than made up for his lack of contributions.
All three freshman got 14 or more minutes, and all three played well. Jordy Tshimanga had six points and five rebounds in 14 minutes. Isaiah Roby had four points, three rebounds and a block in 16 minutes.
And of course, Horne was the star of the show with a game-high 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting with four rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal. Even better, Miles played the hot hand and had Horne on the floor for 12 minutes in the second half including crunch time, and Horne hit the most important shot of the game, a dagger pull-up jumper with 14 seconds to play that put Nebraska up by four.
The question the Miles now has to deal with is how to get all the young players time on the floor. Can Horne and Roby play together? Or is it one or the other? Miles has played Roby almost exclusively at the four, while Horne was at the four most of his minutes against Southern. It’s hard to get those two minutes at the same position while still playing Ed Morrow Jr. and Michael Jacobson (neither of whom cracked the 20-minute mark in this game). Jack McVeigh played just seven minutes and continued to struggle, while Evan Taylor started at the three and played 30 minutes, producing eight points, four steals and two assists.
“We played [Jeriah Horne] and he came through,” Miles said. “I credit his patience. We played small, so we got out rebounded and there were some things we gave up on the interior, but he got them back in bunches. We still have to figure out where he fits in the rotation, but I was very proud of him and that’s going to hopefully build his confidence a great deal.”
Miles still has a lot of tinkering to do as the Huskers head into Big Ten play.
I was also impressed by some of the offense Nebraska ran in the second 10 minutes of the first half. After shooting 2-of-8 and falling behind 11-7 by the first media timeout, the Huskers closed out the half shooting over 50 percent with five assists and six offensive rebounds. The ball movement was great and the effort was consistent. There wasn’t much stagnation, and although Southern played a lot of sagging defense, the Huskers found ways to score.
The downside was nine first-half turnovers, which led directly to 11 points by the Jaguars. That, coupled with a circus banked 3 at the buzzer cut Nebraska’s lead to just four at halftime.
Miles criticized his team’s ability to generate its own energy with the small crowd at the Gardner-Webb game. The crowd wasn’t much bigger on Tuesday, but this time when things got tough, the Huskers rose to the occasion.
Southern opened the second half on a 9-1 run to pull ahead 45-41 just over four minutes into the second half. Unlike on Sunday, Nebraska responded with a 10-2 run of its own to jump back ahead 51-47. Southern tied it a couple times, but Nebraska never fell behind again. With the Huskers making some big plays, the crowd responded – something they weren’t given much of a chance to do on Sunday.
“[The energy] came from the loss and that slap in the face of reality and a really good hard practice,” Miles said. “These guys are just really believing ‘We can do it, but we have to play a certain way.’ … The crowd was there and was great, they really supported the guys, and I really appreciate that. But I thought these guys just kinda believed. Like ‘If we play hard, were going to win’ and you have to believe that regardless of who’s name is across whether that be Gardner-Webb, Indiana, Maryland or anybody so I thought that was a good step forward. We got to keep encouraging them and building them up and understand that there’s going to be some discomfort, pain to the game, the physical style we have to play to be successful.”
On its face, a five-point win over Southern is probably something Nebraska fans should be more worried about than pleased by. However, after losing to Gardner-Webb, they just needed a win, and they got that. I wrote after that loss that this season could go one of two ways depending on the result of this game. While the Huskers did flirt with taking the wrong path, in my view, they made enough progress in certain areas to hold off judgment for just a little longer.
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.