Run It Back: What Even Was That for Nebraska?
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Run It Back: What Even Was That for Nebraska?

February 20, 2019

After Nebraska’s 95-71 embarrassment at Penn State on Tuesday night, BTN studio analyst Stephen Bardo had some harsh words for the Huskers, directed primarily at the upperclassmen on the team.

After re-watching the game, harsh as they may have been, Bardo’s words were justified.

Nebraska surrendered a 10-0 run right out of the gates, falling behind 13-4. It only got worse from there. The deficit steadily rose from nine to 13 to 18 to 19 at halftime. In the second half, it grew from 22 to 25 to 29 before the Nittany Lions settled in for a 24-point win. Outside of very brief stretches of competent play that provided some fleeting hope, nothing Nebraska did seemed to work.

The Nittany Lions — the 13th-best 3-point shooting team in the Big Ten at under 29 percent in league play — shot 11-of-22 from 3. Nebraska fans found out what Creighton fans felt like back on Dec. 8 when the Huskers rained down 3 after 3 against the Bluejays.

After Nebraska allowed Penn State to grab half of its misses the first time these teams played back in January (21 boards on 42 misses), The Nittany Lions rebounded 13 of their 28 misses in round two.

That was as well as Penn State (the last-place team in the conference) has played all season long, but this wasn’t some fluke performance. Nebraska’s effort and execution had everything to do with how well Penn State played, and the most experienced players were at the heart of that.

Film study will not be kind to James Palmer Jr., Glynn Watson Jr. and Thomas Allen Jr. in particular.

I made it through about 27 minutes of game time before calling it good. Nebraska didn’t give a full effort, so why should I? I had seen more than enough. By the 13-minute mark of the second half, Nebraska had already given up 10 offensive rebounds and allowed eight made 3-pointers.

On half of those 10 offensive rebounds I watched, Nebraska simply didn’t put any effort into finding a body and boxing out. Two of those came with Nebraska in its 1-3-1 zone, but even on those plays Huskers were in position to find a many and they just didn’t do it. A couple of the offensive rebounds came when a big man helped unnecessarily and opened up his own man for the board and a few of them were just the Nittany Lions wanting the ball more.

As for the 3-pointers, the vast majority of them were open. At the high-major Division I level, for the most part, even bad shooters can hit an open shot from time to time and Penn State got plenty of them.

Two of the made 3s were tough shots by one of Penn State’s best shooters in Rasir Bolton and one was the result of very good offensive execution that put the defense in a tough spot. Pretty much the rest of them were a combination of poor awareness, mistakes in help defense and a lack of communication or effort to close out to shooters. 

There were some pathetic instances of transition defense as well by multiple players. All in all, it was a terrible defensive effort. Historically bad, even.

Offensively, Nebraska didn’t get going until the second half when the game was already pretty much decided. Guys like Palmer, Watson and Thomas either missed makable shots or took bad and/or wild and out-of-control shots rather than showing patience and trying to create something better. This wasn’t a case of Nebraska simply missing good looks. What makes it even more frustrating is Nebraska had a number of terrific possessions where the ball moved, the players moved and they generated quality looks. Those were just downed by the rest of the possessions.

I will give a shoutout to freshman guard Amir Harris. I highlighted some of the things he did in my Run it Back column after Nebraska’s win over Minnesota, and he’s continued to play well since. 

Against Penn State, he had four points on an impressive couple of takes to the basket, and the one shot he missed led to an offensive rebound that resulted in a 3 for Nebraska. He had two blocks and two rebounds and played aggressive defense all game in a career-high 23 minutes. He did turn the ball over once but immediately made up for it by sprinting back and stealing the ball. Harris wasn’t perfect by any means, but he was a bright spot once again.

However, what does it say that the team’s best players couldn’t be bothered to show up in a must-win game against a bad team? Coach Tim Miles said on his postgame radio show that he needed the players to explain what happened to him because he didn’t see that kind of effort coming based on their practices and game preparation.

Miles talked about the need for the team to generate its own energy at Penn State, one of the worst atmospheres in college basketball in terms of fan support and attendance. Shouldn’t a chance at making the postseason (as small as it might have been) and playing for your coach’s job have been enough to generate that energy no matter how many people were in the building?

The answer was apparently “no,” which raises all sort of other questions, none of them good.

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