Nebraska suffered its first loss of the season on Tuesday night in the Hall of Fame Classic championship game against a tough Texas Tech team.
There’s no shame losing to the Red Raiders under Chris Beard; he lost most of his roster from last year’s NCAA Tournament team but loaded up on transfers and has his guys playing lockdown defense once again. The worrisome thing, however, is the way it happened — the same way we’ve seen Nebraska fail far too often under Tim Miles.
The Huskers only managed to score 52 points against the Red Raiders. Under Miles, Nebraska has failed to reach 60 points 56 times in 199 games, 28.1 percent of the Huskers’ games during that time. Miles’ teams have typically been pretty strong defensively, but even so the Huskers are 11-45 (.196) when they’ve failed to crack 60 points. That’s a pretty low barrier to clear in a 40-minute game.
To be fair, 17 of those games came in Miles’ first year in Lincoln and 16 more came in the 2014-15 letdown season after the NCAA Tournament run the year before. Still, even in last year’s 22-win campaign it happened six times, and Nebraska lost all six of those games.
If Nebraska wants to be a team that can win in March, it can’t afford to have the kinds of offensive games we saw on Tuesday.
The numbers are not pretty. The Huskers shot 17-of-48 (35.4 percent) from the field, 5-of-23 from 3 (21.7 percent) and 13-of-21 (61.9 percent) from the foul line. The dished out just six assists while turning the ball over 14 times.
In total, Nebraska had 73 possessions against the Red Raiders. They scored at least a point on just 25 of them. That’s a putrid .71 points per possession.
I rewatched the game to get a better feel for where things went wrong and charted what I saw. I marked down possessions that I thought produced good looks (I lumped bonus free throws into that group even though the Huskers didn’t really earn some of those trips to the line).
The final tally? I deemed 34 of Nebraska’s 73 possessions to be quality possessions. Nebraska couldn’t even get a good look on half of their possessions. Nebraska scored at least a point on 21 of the 34 “good” possessions. On the other 39 possessions, they only managed to score four times. The good-to-bad split from the first to the second half was nearly identical (17-19 in the first, 17-20 in the second), so little seemed to change at halftime.
Texas Tech’s defense was tremendous on Tuesday night. The Red Raiders were up in the Huskers’ faces all night, swarming any time Nebraska tried to run any kind of action or enter the paint. On seemingly every drive there was a help defender in front of the rim (thus three offensive foul calls against James Palmer Jr.). That being said, Nebraska did not handle it very well.
Nebraska had some catch-and-shoot opportunities throughout the night, particularly off of dribble penetration, and they couldn’t convert them. The Huskers shot 3-16 (including 2-of-10 in the first half) on catch-and-shoot opportunities by my count, with a few of those highly contested.
When those shots didn’t fall, Nebraska seemingly grew more and more frustrated and we saw guys looking to get theirs more often. Glynn Watson Jr. looked like the guy we saw last year instead of the one from the first four games of the season, shooting 2-of-11 from the field.
Palmer shot 2-of-8 from 3 in 27 minutes before fouling out on Tuesday after shooting 2-of-9 from deep in 23 minutes on Monday in a win over Missouri State down in Kansas City. Palmer also shot 2-of-8 in Nebraska’s win over Seton Hall in the Gavitt Tipoff Games. He is now 7-of-34 on the season.
Palmer hasn’t made more than two 3s in a game since Jan. 27 when he shot 3-of-6 from 3 in a win over Iowa. Since that game, Palmer is 14-74 (18.9 percent) from 3 in 14 games. In his first 24 games as a Husker, Palmer shot a respectable 36.4 percent on 4.1 attempts per game. His attempts per game have jumped to 5.3 since his struggles began.
As the saying goes, shooters shoot, but at a certain point it goes beyond trying to shoot oneself out of a slump and starts to look like the guy isn’t a shooter at all.
At Big Ten Media Day, I asked Miles about the scoring droughts that have plagued his team over the years. He talked a lot about how it usually comes down to hitting shots, something they haven’t done often enough, and said they spent a lot of time this offseason getting shots up.
He’s right — basketball is a make or miss game. Like I said above, Nebraska missed a lot of decent perimeter looks against the Red Raiders. But a leopard can’t change his spots, and Nebraska is shooting a pretty pedestrian 34.8 percent from deep this year after shooting 34.6 percent last year, 32 percent the year prior and 34.7 percent the year before that.
Nebraska isn’t good enough to rely on perimeter shots to win when things get tough. The Huskers have to find a better way to score. Shot selection is as much of a problem as how often those shots go in more often than not when things get tough for the Huskers. We’re seeing too many quick shots with one or fewer passes, too many shots off the dribble, too many contested looks.
To avoid losses like Tuesday’s moving forward, Nebraska’s offense has to improve. If the shots they’re taking aren’t going to start falling, Nebraska has to start taking different shots.
Continuing to do the same thing over and over again while expecting different results is the definition of insanity, and if Nebraska continues with the same offensive mindset it might drive some of its fans go a little crazy.
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.