Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Huskers Show Progress in Loss to Jays

By Brian Rosenthal

Omaha -- Nebraska swished 3-pointers, forced turnovers, hit timely shots to quell potential runs and repeatedly silenced the home crowd.

For once, finally, the Huskers had the Creighton basketball team squirming in its own arena rather than bolting to an early lead.

That, in and of itself, could be considered victory for Nebraska.

The final score, of course, tells us otherwise.

Creighton 75, Nebraska 65.

Anybody who watched this game knows that final score is misleading. In fact, it’s the only time Creighton (7-2) had the margin to double digits, thanks to solid free-throw shooting in the final minute.

Close, but not over the hump. Not yet, anyway.

“I believe in our team,” said Nebraska coach Tim Miles, who fell to 0-6 against this instate rival. “I think Creighton is very good, but I believe we can beat a lot of teams. I looked at this game as an opportunity for our guys to go out and get a high-quality win. We just didn’t do enough.”

Nebraska (7-4) proved early this wouldn’t be like past games in this series, in this building, the CenturyLink Center.

After an early 4-0 hole, the Huskers regrouped, hit a couple of 3-pointers, and took a 13-7 lead when Jordy Tshimanga scored and drew a foul going into the first media timeout.

Wait, hold up.

By the time the teams reconvened on the court, the call had been changed to a charge on Tshimanga. He had no basket, no ensuing free-throw attempt. Creighton had the ball, down 11-7, and scored to pull within one.

Miles said he doesn’t remember how or why the call had been changed.

But whatever. When past Nebraska teams may have let a bad sequence like that get in their head, this team held firm. Anton Gill and Isaac Copeland responded with consecutive 3-pointers.

Copeland, who finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds for his first double-double in a Nebraska uniform, had other answers, too.

The Jays were all lit when Mitch Ballock blocked a Glynn Watson Jr. dunk attempt to ignite a crowd of 17,901. Fans were ready to go through the roof when Ballock let loose on wide-open 3-pointer, but he missed.

Then Copeland scored two straight field goals, including a dunk, and the Nebraska lead was back to 29-22.

Watson, held to eight points on 4-of-14 shooting, also had a crowd-silencer in the final minute before halftime when he swished his patented pull-up jumper after Creighton had scored four points in a row.

Are such answers in a loud, road environment signs Nebraska is gaining more mental toughness?

“It’s not perfect, but these guys are committed to it,” Miles said. “They’re committed to winning for Nebraska. There’s no agenda. It’s like, ‘We’re going to win this game together.’ We’re not perfect. We showed that. But they’re fun to coach. They really are. It was fun for a long time tonight.”

Copeland agreed, saying Nebraska shows signs of how good of a team it can be, but isn’t yet consistent enough.

“We’re a good team with a lot of individual experience, so you have moments where you settle in,” Copeland said. “As you could see in the second half, they outplayed us and they made the winning plays. That’s where individual experience needs to come together to a team experience. We’re still learning, we’re making strides. There’s a lot to learn from this game.”

Creighton, led by Marcus Foster’s 19 points, took its first lead of the second half, 39-38, on a Ballock 3-pointer with 15:41 remaining. Nebraska answered, but Creighton scored again to go ahead by one, and never trailed again.

Yet the Bluejays never gained separation, either, until the final seconds.

Miles called time out with 13:44 left and Creighton up 43-40. Watson was on the bench with three fouls at that point, but re-entered during the timeout. He immediately fed Isaiah Roby in the corner for a game-tying 3-pointer.

The last tied score was 47-47 with 9:31 to play on a James Palmer Jr. layup. Twice after that, the Huskers pulled within one on a 3-pointer – one by Roby, the other by Gill, with 3:43 remaining.

That was the final of nine 3-pointers by Nebraska, on 26 attempts. Creighton, meanwhile, had only five 3-pointers, but saved its biggest for last.

Creighton has scored on four straight possessions during a sequence where the teams were trading baskets, the margin flipping between three and five points. As a switch-up, Miles called for a 1-3-1 zone, which has been a difference maker for Nebraska in the past.

Not this time.

Foster nailed an NBA-range 3-pointer from the left wing with 47 seconds to play for a 69-63 lead, the dagger in a game the Huskers desperately wanted.

Yet in the end, the Huskers couldn’t overcome some bad breaks, including when Watson fouled out with 2:37 remaining when Roby inadvertently hit him in the face – the only contact Watson made with anyone, as he lay on the court.

“That was a big play. We need him on the floor,” Miles said. “Unfortunately, he was in a bad spot with some foul trouble. That’s the breaks of the game, too. It felt like it hurt us.”

So, too, did a mere three free-throw attempts for a Nebraska team that’s made a living on free throws this season.

“We have to run stronger offense at the rim to get to the foul line, too,” Miles said. “You can’t just sit there and get out-shot at the foul line with that many attempts. You’re not going to win.”

That’s not keeping Miles from maintaining a confident attitude with this bunch, which Creighton coach Greg McDermott said is Miles’ “most complete” team yet.

“I really believe in our team. I can’t wait until we play next week (against Kansas),” Miles said. “I’m sure it will make us sick to watch this film, but we’re going to get better from this.”

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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