With a 66-53 loss to Virginia Tech on Sunday afternoon, Nebraska (4-2) finished 1-2 and in fourth place in the Wooden Legacy in Anaheim, California.
Nebraska defeated a short-handed Dayton squad 80-78 on Thursday before falling to No. 14 UCLA 82-71 on Friday night.
The Huskers led Virginia Tech 26-23 at halftime, but the Hokies found their offense in the second half and Nebraska did not. After shooting 29.6 percent from the field in the first half, Virginia Tech nearly doubled that in the second half, shooting 56.5 percent. Nebraska shot 22.6 percent in the second half and 29.8 percent for the game.
“You could tell at the start of the second half that we were not locked in,” head coach Tim Miles said. “We felt to win the game we had to win the rebounds and win in the paint, which we lost the rebounds and tied in the paint. That was not good enough for us. We were inept on offense, so it’ll be good to watch tape and find a way to get better. We have another ACC team on the road on Wednesday. It doesn’t get easier moving forward.”
Senior guard Tai Webster was terrific with 23 points on 6-of-11 shooting with eight rebounds, but Ed Morrow Jr. (13 points, 5-of-9 shooting, seven rebounds and four turnovers) was the only other Husker in double figures scoring. Webster averaged 19.3 points and shot 52.8 percent from the field in the tournament.
“Tai is kind of out of line; he’s our only senior surrounded by seven freshmen and sophomores,” Miles said after the loss to UCLA. “I think he’s done a great job of showing them how to lead and how to play with the correct mindset. Some guys are figuring that out and some guys are feeding off of it, sometimes, some are feeding off it all the time. I think he’s a really good role model for our young guys and I’m just so impressed with how he’s gotten better and better each year.”
After scoring 20 and 27 points in his first two games of the tournament, sophomore point guard Glynn Watson finished with just two points on 1-of-11 shooting against Virginia Tech. Morrow averaged 13.3 points and 8.0 rebounds in Anaheim.
Jack McVeigh, who had played very well in Nebraska’s first three games, shot just 2-of-17 from deep and totaled 11 points in the three games in the tournament. Against UCLA and Virginia Tech, the Huskers got just total 18 points off their bench.
Nebraska was competitive against two solid major conference teams, but in order to make the leap from “being competitive” to “winning,” Nebraska is going to have to find more diversity and consistency on offense. Against Virginia Tech, the Huskers started to look a lot like what fans have seen over the last few years – one to two guys getting theirs while everyone else struggles. Tai Webster is off to a fantastic start this season, but he is not going to be able to carry Nebraska to victory against the better teams on Nebraska’s schedule.
Against UCLA, Webster and Watson combined for 47 of Nebraska’s 71 points. Against Virginia Tech, Webster and Morrow combined for 35 of their 53. Two plays accounting for more than 65 percent of the offense is not a winning strategy.
Anton Gill, who had 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the first round win against Dayton, scored nine points on 3-of-16 shooting in the other two games. Gill has to start contributing consistently on the offensive end because other than him, the bench consists primarily of a defensive-minded junior college guard and three freshmen who are still trying to figure things out. Nebraska is getting 10 points per game off its bench against Division I opposition.
Getting Gill going is priority number one. He was set back by a knee injury that held him out of preseason practices, but we’re almost a month into the season now. Taking away his strong performance against Dayton, Gill is 4-of-27 from the field for 12 points this year.
The other most likely source of offense off the bench is freshman forward Isaiah Roby. Roby has struggled with some turnovers and his jumper in his limited opportunities. However, jump shooting isn’t his strength. Nebraska needs to get him involved in other ways than spotting up on the perimeter for kick outs or passing the ball off at the top of the key and then running to the corner.
The road doesn’t get any easier for the Huskers. They’re headed to Clemson on Wednesday for an 8 p.m. tip off against the Tigers. Webster is a rock and Watson won’t regularly struggle like he did against the Hokies. However, if Nebraska wants to get back on the winning track, Tim Miles has to find a way to get some production from McVeigh and the bench.
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.