How does one win a game in which the team shot 32.8 percent from the field and scored 59 points in 40 minutes? The answer is defense, and that is what carried Nebraska to a 59-50 win over Northwestern on Saturday night.
The game was close throughout until the Huskers delivered a knockout blow with an 11-0 run that turned a one-point game into a double-digit lead late. However, that run was much more great defense than great offense as it took over five minutes for the Huskers to score those 11 points.
How did the Huskers take control of the game? Let’s dive into the film to find out.
A dunk by Anthony Gaines pulled the Wildcats within one at 42-41 at the 8:18 mark. James Palmer Jr. missed at the rim on the other end, but Nebraska got a stop and walked the ball up the court. After a couple of actions failed to produce anything, the ball found Thomas Allen Jr. on the right wing and Tanner Borchardt went to set a screen for him.
However, Isaiah Roby isn’t spacing the floor nor is he looking to set a double screen. He’s juts kind of standing there, in the way. Allen reads that he doesn’t have space to turn the corner so he refuses the screen instead, which catches his defender off-guard.
However, Palmer isn’t spacing the floor very well either. He should be in the deep corner, not midway between the corner and the wing. As Allen attacks, Palmer’s defender, Vic Law, helps off and tries to dig in on Allen’s drive.
Allen avoided Law, though, and put up a tough bucket over his defender, Miller Kopp. Seemed like there was a lot of contact as well but Allen didn’t get the call to go with the bucket.
That was far from ideal execution by the Huskers, but a great individual play by Allen gets the run started regardless.
On the other end, Law got past Glynn Watson Jr. and appears to have a wide open layup, but Roby had other plans.
Roby pushed the ball up the floor, getting ahead of his man Dererk Pardon and Euro-stepping around another defender, but he missed the little runner off the glass. Borchardt got a hand on the ball and kept it alive and it happened to bounce right to Palmer at the rim. Palmer missed the bunny but got fouled and hit both free-throws.
Northwestern ran a play to get Ryan Taylor open for a 3, but Allen closed late for a decent contest and Taylor missed. Nebraska didn’t push the ball, though, instead walking it up and getting into a halfcourt set. Palmer came off a ball screen then swung the ball to Allen who attacked a bad closeout and put up a floater over Northwestern’s Barret Benson. Allen missed, but Benson ran into him for the foul and Allen hit both shots.
Out of the free throws, Nebraska switched from man-to-man to its 1-3-1 defense. Northwestern swung the ball to Pardon on the baseline near the left corner.
Palmer denies the pass to the wing and Borchardt deflects Pardon’s attempted pass out of the trap. The ball went right to Palmer and and he pushed it up the floor, Euro-stepping in the lane but missing the shot. Roby tried to tip-slam the miss but couldn’t get it down and the ball ricocheted out to Watson near the top of the key. Nebraska swung the ball to Palmer in the corner for a 3 but he missed that too.
No points either way during that sequence.
Nebraska stayed in the 1-3-1 and Taylor traveled, giving the ball back to the Huskers. On the other end, Nebraska set a double-screen for Palmer with Borchardt and Allen and Allen popped to the arc for the throwback pass. He attacked another bad Northwestern closeout and got in the lane, but he missed the floater over Benson again and this time there wasn’t a foul.
Once again, no points awarded.
Nebraska stuck with the 1-3-1 and Pardon popped to the wing for a 3 (he had hit one earlier) but couldn’t hit it. Benson grabbed the offensive rebound but Palmer poked it away, beat another Wildcat to the ball downcourt but took three steps before finishing and was called for the travel.
Northwestern was all kinds of flustered with Nebraska’s 1-3-1, and the zone forced one more turnover. A miscommunication resulted in Law passing the ball to AJ Turner, who had just started to cut through when Law was releasing the ball. That meant Law essentially passed to nobody.
Watson saw what happened and was the first one there, stealing the ball and pushing it up the court.
Law got back on defense but Watson crossed over in front of him, got into his body and finished a tough layup over the much taller Law.
Northwestern coach Chris Collins saw enough and called a timeout to settle his guys down.
Out of the break, Nebraska switched back to man-to-man and Northwestern targeted Watson, attacking him towards the baseline on the left side of the court. Law jump-stopped and Watson flew by, but Roby was there once again to get his teammate’s back.
Law traveled, giving the ball back to Nebraska. Watson ran a pick-and-roll with Borchardt, staying tight to the screener (something Nebraska guards don’t do nearly often enough) and forcing the switch.
Benson is slow to close the space between him and Watson, so Watson stepped back for the 3.
Just like that, the Huskers were up 53-41 thanks to a fairly methodical 11-0 run.
Looking to end the run, Northwestern got the ball inside to Benson on the block with Roby guarding him, and Benson traveled trying to make a move. On the other end, Allen got blocked out of bounds with 7 on the shot clock. Nebraska got the ball in-bounded to Roby but he was forced to fire up a contested 3 off the dribble with the clock winding down, and it bounced hard off the heel of the rim.
Northwestern pushed the ball up the court and set an early screen for Turner who stepped up and knocked down a jumper from the elbow to end a scoring drought that had lasted 5:34.
With less than three minutes to play and a 10-point lead, Nebraska cruised to its second win in a row.
The Huskers struggled mightily on offense, scoring 59 points on 64 field goal attempts and 14 free-throw attempts. But the defense picked up the slack as the Huskers forced 15 Northwestern turnovers and held the Wildcats to 34.5 percent from the field and just eight free-throws. Tim Miles’ move to the 1-3-1 came at a perfect time and allowed the Huskers to blow open the game even though they didn’t necessarily get hot on the offensive end.
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.