Basketball is a game of adjustments, and Tim Miles made a big one to spur a comeback win down the stretch at Maryland.
After spending much of the game with a lead, the Huskers fell behind by as much as 13 a couple times in the second half. Needing a spark, Miles switched to a 1-3-1 zone defense. The result? A 14-0 run over the final six minutes to give the Huskers a 67-65 victory.
Miles said after the game that he doesn’t like zone defenses very much, but he installed it in the last week just in case they needed to try something different. Miles reached out to Xavier coach Chris Mack to get some advice and it clearly paid off. The Terrapins went 0-of-9 from the field with three turnovers during that final run.
Maryland’s Melo Trimble was third in the conference in scoring and is one of college basketball’s best crunch-time performers with three game-winning plays already this season. He didn’t look anything like an All-Big Ten player on Sunday, however, as the Huskers held him to 14 points on 5-of-15 shooting with three turnovers. Tai Webster and Evan Taylor spent most of the game checking him and the Huskers’ help defense was in place most of the night as well.
The final minute is typically Trimble time, but Maryland’s junior guard turned the ball over down one with 20 seconds to go. After the Huskers split a pair of free throws to pull ahead by two, Maryland got the ball to Trimble on the right wing and he air-balled an open 3-pointer. The Huskers couldn’t secure the ball before it bounced out of bounds, giving Trimble and Maryland one last chance with 4.7 to play. The Terps in-bounded to center Damonte Dodd and he passed off to Trimble on the left wing and once again, Trimble couldn’t convert a toe-on-the-tape long 2-pointer.
On the other hand, Tai Webster was tremendous down the stretch for Nebraska. He finished with 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting with five turnovers, and after turning the ball over three times in the first 10 minutes, he didn’t turn it over once in the final 30. Webster scored Nebraska’s last seven points including three acrobatic layups.
Nebraska rode uncharacteristically excellent 3-point shooting to a win at Indiana on Wednesday, and the Huskers carried that over into the first half against Maryland, hitting four of their five attempts. Glynn Watson Jr. hit both of his attempts and Jeriah Horne hit his only shot. Those two combined to hit 17 of their last 26 attempts at that point.
However, regression to the mean reared its ugly head in the second half as the Huskers went 0-of-7, including 0-of-2 by both Watson and Horne. Adding to their shooting struggles, the Huskers got to the free-throw line 16 times but only hit nine of them. Nebraska’s improved offense dried up and they had to fall back on their defense. Miles called it “Blackhsirt defense,” which is appropriate as the Huskers were wearing black alternate jerseys.
Michael Jacobson was terrific, just missing a double-double with 10 points, nine rebounds and an assist in 20 minutes. He was a monster on the offensive glass with seven boards, and he also knocked down two long jumpers, which is great for Nebraska’s spacing if he can find some consistency in that part of his game.
Jacobson’s performance was even more important with Ed Morrow struggling. Morrow finished with nine points, seven rebounds and two blocks in 34 minutes, but he shot just 3-of-9 from the field and 3-of-7 from the free-throw line. Morrow’s struggles as a finisher surfaced once again, but Jacobson picked him up. Miles will certainly take 19 points and 16 rebounds from his sophomore big men without a second thought.
Isaiah Roby certainly made some freshman mistakes with three turnovers and he only scored four points, but the defensive effort he gave off the bench was tremendous. Roby is unlike any other player on the roster with his combination of height, length and athleticism, and he put those tools to good use. He was credited with three steals and three blocks and he altered at least two or three other shots as well. Roby is really starting to come into his own and has transformed from a fringe rotation player into a key part of the rotation.
Nebraska’s defense was terrific on every terrapin but one. Freshman Kevin Huerter, who had hit just 18 of his 59 3-point attempts (30.5 percent) in his first 14 games went off for 26 points including a remarkable 7-of-11 from deep. While Huerter had struggled to find shot, he was recruited as a shooter and was taking more than four attempts per game for a reason. The Huskers need to do a better job of adjusting in-game when a player like Huerter starts off 4-of-5 from deep. There were too many missed rotations or miscommunications around him and it nearly cost them in what was otherwise and incredible defensive performance.
Somehow, someway, the Huskers are atop the Big Ten standings after the first week of conference play. Now they get a chance to return home to host an Iowa team that is even younger than Nebraska with 11 freshmen and sophomores on its roster. Nebraska has a tremendous opportunity in front of it with a stretch of winnable games in a down Big Ten.
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.