At the end of the day, basketball is a game of buckets, and it’s amazing what getting a few of those can do to transform a basketball team like Nebraska.
On paper, Indiana was a terrible match-up for the Huskers. The Hoosiers came into Wednesday’s meeting with Nebraska as one of the best offensive teams in the country, while the Huskers were one of the worst. If Nebraska wanted to hang with the Hoosiers at Assembly Hall, they were going to need an uncharacteristically great shooting night.
That is exactly what they got, and in doing so it opened up the rest of their game as well. The Huskers shot 9-of-18 from deep including 6-of-10 in the second half. They also scored 54 points in the second half, the highest total in any half this season. That is not a coincidence.
Sophomore point guard Glynn Watson Jr. shot 4-of-7 from deep after shooting 13-of-37 (35.1 percent) in the first 12 games. His previous career-high was three triples against UCLA earlier this season. That was a total gift for the Huskers, but because he was hitting some tough shots, the Hoosiers had to defend him differently than they might have otherwise.
Freshman forward Jeriah Horne came off the bench and knocked down three more triples in five attempts, showing his 18-poin outing against Southern wasn’t simply a flash in the pan. Horne won’t continue to shoot 63.6 percent from deep like he has over the last two games, but even so his presence could transform the Nebraska offense. Teams are going to have to account for him, and that means one less body in the paint to keep Tai Webster and Watson away from the basket.
With Anton Gill out for the season, Tim Miles had to adjust his rotation. In this game, Miles elected to start the same five he used against Southern – Watson, Webster, Evan Taylor, Michael Jacobson and Ed Morrow Jr. The difference is that he brought just three players off the bench – the three freshmen Horne, Isaiah Roby and Jordy Tshimanga. Jack McVeigh logged the first DNP-CD of his Nebraska career.
Horne and Roby each played both forward spots, although Roby, who Miles had used almost exclusively at the four prior to that game, spent more time at the three and matched up with Indiana’s small forward when the two freshmen shared the court. The two played well for the second straight game, combining for 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Horne showed he’s more than just a catch-and-shoot guy as well as he hit a couple of tough jumpers off the dribble. As for Roby, he ended up at SportsCenter’s Top 10 with a spectacular dunk, and later he tried to throw down on Indiana’s 6-foot-11 center although this time he missed (with a little contact).
Nebraska got off to a good start, but Indiana did what many teams have done to the Huskers this year – gone zone on defense. Once again, the Huskers acted like they had never seen a 2-3 before early on before settling into their zone offense. However, even after they settled in they still struggled to score against it. With the starting group, Michael Jacobson primarily served as the high post man on offense. One common way to beat a zone is to get the ball to the high post to collapse the defense and then hit the open man. To play that spot, the player has to be both a good passer and an offensive threat to make something happen on his own out of the high post.
Jacobson isn’t that. He saw a few openings and tried to take advantage with some moves to the basket, but he couldn’t capitalize. If the guy at the high post isn’t a threat, the defense doesn’t collapse and shooters don’t get open. We saw a lot of that early on Wednesday.
But then Miles subbed Roby into the game to play that spot after Jacobson picked up his fourth foul early in the second half, and the 6-foot-8 freshman changed the game. The freshman did eventually make a few mistakes, but his skill set serves him well in that role and he made some big plays. Right after checking in, Roby caught the ball then made a smart pass to an open shooter for a 3-pointer. Next, he caught the ball from about 15 feet out, saw a crease, attacked the basket and laid it in. Later, he caught it, attacked off the bounce and kicked out to Watson for another triple.
The spacing was also much better with Roby in the game as he moved around to different spots on the floor better than Jacobson did, even popping to the top of the key when there was too much traffic near the free-throw line.
All in all, a solid day of work for Roby with eight points, six rebounds, three assists and a block.
Nebraska isn’t going to shoot 50 percent from deep every game moving forward, but they shouldn’t have to in order to win. If Horne can continue to knock down a couple shots off the bench to keep defenses honest, Nebraska will have a chance to field a working offense.
This was a great win for Nebraska. However, the loss to Gardner-Webb set them back and this upset merely serves to get them back to even where it could have put them ahead of schedule had they taken care of business. Now, Sunday’s game at Maryland will be the first chance to get ahead.
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.