Down double-digits and in need of a miracle, Nebraska’s defense did exactly what would be expected of a successful push late in the fourth quarter.
In the final six minutes of the game, the Huskers held Rutgers to just three points. In a span of 90 seconds close to the end of the game, Nebraska recorded three straight steals, then went for a fourth by tipping a pass down the sideline.
However, that effort turned into a grand total of zero points. The first steal, recorded through Maddie Krull intercepting a pass, ended in Sam Haiby missing a contested fastbreak layup. The Huskers got the offensive rebound after that, but Haiby missed a jumper to end the possession. She tried to make up for it on the defensive end, forcing the next two turnovers, but those subsequent possessions ended in a missed layup and off target 3-pointer.
Finally, Krull stepped in the way of a pass again, knocking it away and grabbing possession. Before she could take advantage of the fastbreak, a whistle blew, bringing attention to the fact that she stepped out of bounds in the process of securing the ball.
The Nebraska defense was rarely the problem against Rutgers, holding the Scarlet Knights to their worst offensive performance of conference play. Instead, the Husker offense turned in an even worse effort, giving the team a 45-57 loss.
Nebraska entered the day atop the Big Ten in 3-point makes, also owning a percentage which landed in the top half of the conference. That didn’t show on Saturday in New Jersey, as it ended the third quarter having launched 21 shots from deep without a single make.
Shooting woes began early, even as the Huskers opened the game up 4-3 through two Isabelle Bourne layups. The second was the precursor to a five-minute scoring drought, only snapped by an Alexis Markowski free throw that was Nebraska’s final point of the quarter. The team missed eight threes in the opening period, many of them wide open and multiple failing to hit the rim. When the buzzer sounded, they had recorded a program-worst five first-quarter points — for the second time in three games.
But unlike the slow start against Michigan, Nebraska wasn’t at a great disadvantage 10 minutes in. Rutgers led by just five points, hitting four of its first 18 shots, not making a three and turning it over three times.
With a few minutes until halftime, the Huskers had brought it even closer. They still hadn’t hit a three, were up to eight turnovers and went the first four minutes of the second quarter without scoring at all. But Sam Haiby nearly doubled the team’s points with a pair of baskets in under 20 seconds, sparking a 10-2 run that brought the deficit to 15-16.
That’s when the game’s first 3-pointer dropped. Rutgers hit one with just over three minutes to go until the break, then nailed three more to take back control. When the teams headed to the locker room, the Scarlet Knights led 30-20.
To start the second half, Nebraska continued to fight back, playing well defensively and making it a 6-point game halfway through the third quarter. But a quick run once again made the Rutgers lead double-digits. Down 14, the Huskers spent the final possession of the quarter passing the ball around the perimeter until Markowski was forced to throw up an awkward deep three at the buzzer that missed.
Even when a couple threes fell in the final quarter, and Krull and Haiby — Nebraska’s two double-digit scorers on the day — made some plays, the Huskers could never put together enough offensive momentum to come back.
Nebraska’s top scorers coming into the game failed to make an impact. Jaz Shelley was held scoreless for just the second time as a Husker, missing all 10 of her shots, while Markowski ended with five points on 1-for-8 shooting. This was the team’s third straight loss, and they fell to 1-4 in true road games after posting a 5-6 mark in opposing arenas last year.
The Huskers will come home to try and turn things around against Penn State, a team which sits at 11-5 and has recorded conference wins against Rutgers and Purdue in recent weeks.