Nebraska has lost six straight games, and in all six of them the Huskers have fallen behind by at least 14 points. The latest of those deficits was 15 points at home against Michigan on Tuesday.
Nebraska went from up 52-50 to down 71-56 in the span of about eight minutes. After 27 minutes of mostly quality basketball, the Huskers fell apart.
“When we went through that drought, I think we had a 1-for-12 stretch and it goes from a two-point lead to a 10-point deficit pretty quickly,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said after the game. “The ball stopped moving. A couple of possessions it never shifted sides and didn't get across, and we had been having pretty good possessions pretty much all night long; we were shooting high percentage and shot it well from behind the arc. We missed a couple of layups in that stretch, we missed a couple right at the rim, but then we just took some out-of-character shots and missed a couple opens 3s I thought.”
As Hoiberg said, Nebraska went 1-for-12 from the field during that stretch including 1-for-7 from 3. The Huskers also split a pair of free throws and turned the ball over once. On the other end, Michigan scored on 10 of its 13 possessions, shooting 8-of-11 from the field, 2-of-5 from 3 and 3-of-6 from the line with one turnover.
Bad offense plus bad defense is a great way to lose control of a game in a hurry. I could go play-by-play throughout the entire eight minutes, but I’l focus on the offense here.
Before the scoring drought, the Huskers put together an 11-2 run to take the lead that included seven points (a 3-pointer, two free throws and a long 2) from freshman Kevin Cross Jr.
On the first play after taking the lead, Nebraska went to the pick-and-pop with Cam Mack and Cross, who had just hit a jumper on the last possession. Cross was open. A defender closed out to him and he could have made the extra pass to Thorir Thorbjarnarson popping out to the corner, but Cross was hot and got a pretty decent look that just didn’t fall.
On the next possession, Nebraska went back to the Mack-Cross two-man game, this time with a pick-and-roll. Mack expertly manipulated the defense using Austin Davis’ attempt to recover to Cross after hedging to essentially set a second screen on his defender, Eli Brooks.
Mack blew by Brooks and elevated mid-way down the lane, looking to finish with his left hand.
He just missed it hard off the glass.
Nebraska went back to the Cross pick-and-pop on the next play, which led to Cross facing up and trying to attack Davis off the dribble. He drove to the middle of the game and left his feet in an attempt to hit Thorbjarnarson cutting under the basket. Leaving your feet is rarely a good idea, however, and Davis easily snagged the pass out of the year for a turnover. Bad decision by Cross with 13 on the shot clock.
On the next play, Mack swung the ball to Dachon Burke Jr. on the right wing and Yvan Ouedraogo — in for Cross — ran up to run a pick-and-roll. Burke probed a bit but didn’t get anywhere, kicking the ball out to Easley in the corner. Easley passed it right back to Burke on the wing and instead of reversing the ball to Mack on the other side of the floor, Burke (2-of-32 from 3 in his last 10 games) fired up a 3-pointer with 15 on the shot clock.
Burke ran a pick-and-roll again on the next possession (after a pick-and-roll with Jervay Green on the other side that led to a skip pass). Burke put his defender in jail (got him on his hip and kept him behind) and shot a floater, but it was well short. It wasn’t a terrible shot with 9 on the clock, but he didn’t give it much of a chance to go in.
The one make during the stretch was a tough shot from Mack. He ran a pick-and-roll with Ouedraogo and his defender chased over the top, trying to stay attached. Mack took one dribble and pulled up for 3, drilling it for his fifth 3-point make of the game.
The next possession ended Ouedraogo’s day. Green passed the ball to the 17-year-old at the top of the key and looked to set a down screen for Easley. The defender got through the screen and stayed attached to Easley, so instead of looking for someone else Ouedraogo decided to take an extra dribble and pull up from a jump shot at the free-throw line over the outstretched arm of the 7-foot-1 John Teske. It did not go well.
When asked about subbing in freshman Akol Arop for Ouedraogo at that point, Hoiberg simply said: “Did you see the shot that Yvan took?”
Arop set a drag screen for Mack on the next play. Mack dribbled over the screen, hesitated for a moment then shot forward to blow by David DeJulius.
Again, Mack elevated mid-way down the lane and tried to finish with his left hand as Teske stepped over to contest the shot, and again he misplayed it off the backboard for the miss.
Nebraska ran a dribble-weave on the next possession with a few different guys handling it before Burke caught the ball and attacked, drawing in the defense and kicking out to Haanif Cheatham in the corner. Cheatham pump-faked and drove, getting into the lane as Brandon Johns Jr. stepped up and switched onto him. Cheatham put up a floater from about 10 feet out and came up short.
After a Michigan free throw, Nebraska threw the ball in to Mack and he pushed it ahead to Cheatham on the wing. Michigan scrambled to match up and Teske ended up out on Cheatham while the 6-foot-1 Brooks picked up the 6-foot-6 Arop running down the lane. Instead of hitting Arop or skipping the ball to Burke on the weak side, Cheatham (0-of-5 from deep in his last three games) jab-stepped and fired up a 3 over Teske that clanked off the rim.
Nebraska got some good action on the next possession as Mack started with a pick-and-roll before skipping the ball to Burke on the right wing. Burke attacked the closeout (dropping Johns to the deck) and drew both Teske and Adrien Nunez (Thorbjarnarson’s man) before dumping it off to Cross in the strong side dunker spot.
Cross was either in a tough spot to get a shot up or he was worried about Teske’s length, and instead of going up he dribbled into the paint. Thorbjarnarson was wide open on the weak side wing but Cross missed the passing window.
He gave it back to Burke, who dribbled in place before passing it back to Cross. The freshman went nowhere with his dribble before shoveling it back to Burke for a 3-point attempt with 8 on the shot clock.
The next possession was a simple pick-and-pop with Mack and Cross and Cross missed an open 3 from the left wing.
Nebraska finally got a point (one) on the following possession. After a couple drive-and-kick actions a pass got deflected out with 9 on the shot clock. On the baseline out-of-bounds play, Easley ran over a screen to get the ball then dribbled to the elbow and pitched it back to Mack circling around. Mack got downhill, drew the help defender and dropped the ball off to Thorbjarnarson who got fouled. He split the free throws.
After a solid possession, Nebraska wen right back to tough offense as Mack decided to ISO after a couple passes, firing up a step-back 3 with 11 on the shot clock. No good.
Eight minutes, 14 possessions, four points. That will lose you a game no matter what you’re doing on the other end, and it will get you blown out if you’re not locked in defensively.
“That eight-minute stretch where we weren't getting the same type of possessions that we had the majority of that game, it cost us and it's costing us games,” Hoiberg said. “When we have these droughts and we have these lulls, that's what is digging the hole and it's hard to keep the energy to get out of that hole and sustain the energy once you do get out of it.”
Of those 14 possessions, I’d say seven were good offense and bad finishing while the other seven were just bad decisions with players trying to do too much or failing to properly read the floor. What makes it tough was it was the guys that had gotten them the lead — Mack and Cross and Cheatham — who suddenly weren’t able to finish any more.
“The important thing about this year is continuing to get better and continuing to grow,” Hoiberg said. “I thought we had good stretches. When we took that lead, we were doing some really good things out there offensively. Defensively, they were getting by us too much tonight, but offensively I thought we had great flow, we had great rhythm. Then, when we stopped doing things that were making us successful out there — and we were running the same plays, it’s just the ball wasn’t shifting, it wasn’t getting back into Cam’s hands where really good things happened. He and Kevin had a really good rhythm going with the two-man game tonight.”
Nebraska is certainly making progress. Nebraska has played long stretches of quality basketball over its last four or so games, but in order to get a win in the Big Ten the Huskers are going to have to put together a full 40-minute effort.
The 32 minutes Hoiberg got from his team on Tuesday isn’t going to get it done.
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.