Huskers Must Regroup Fast After Tough Loss
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Nebraska pushed the nation’s No. 13 team to the brink on its home court, counted on a sensational career scoring effort from one of its top players and proved it’s a team to be taken seriously in the Big Ten Conference.
All of it means very little if the Huskers don’t regroup and do it all again in two days in another road game.
That was Nebraska coach Tim Miles’ message to his men’s basketball team following Monday night’s frustrating 64-59 loss to No. 13 Ohio State before 10,918 fans at Value City Arena.
Instead of boarding an airplane back to Lincoln like after most road games, this time the Huskers returned to their Columbus hotel to catch some rest before flying Tuesday to Rutgers, where Nebraska plays Wednesday night.
Yet another oddity in what’s been a season of scheduling quirks throughout the Big Ten Conference. For Nebraska, it’s part of a stretch of four games in eight days, with three on the road.
“You have to go out every night, give it heck and see what happens,” Miles said. “We have to have this edge and mentality with defense and sharpness on offense. We cannot come out soft. We cannot come out passive, or you’ll get beat.”
Nebraska (14-8, 5-4 Big Ten) didn’t come out passive against Ohio State, as the Huskers built an early 14-7 lead and maintained the lead until the final minute of the first half. Of course, cold shooting prevented the Huskers from building a bigger lead.
“In reality, I thought we got some pretty good looks in the first half that did everything but go in,” Miles said. “I bet we had five 3s where I go, ‘OK, that’s in,’ and it didn’t go in.”
Those shots finally started to fall for James Palmer Jr. The junior guard made five 3-pointers, on 11 attempts, and scored a career-high 34 points to set a Value City Arena opponent individual scoring record.
Not since center Aleks Maric scored 37 points at Iowa State in 2006 has a Husker scored that many points in a road game.
“We just got out of his way,” Miles said. “I ain’t no rocket scientist, but when James is going like that, we just keep giving him the ball and get out of his way, because he can get you a lot of different ways, and he’s strong to the rim.
“We saw a play early where he took contact … guys are all over him, and he still finishes. James is a special player, and I’m glad he’s with us. He’s one of those guys I think is getting a little better every night out.”
Nebraska trailed 46-41 when Glynn Watson Jr. scored a layup and Palmer hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Huskers a 49-46 lead with 7:09 remaining.
The teams traded one-point leads until Jae’Sean Tate made two free throws, then came up with a steal, leading to a three-point play by C.J. Jackson. That pushed the Ohio State lead to 60-54 with 2:26 remaining.
Palmer made two free throws and Nebraska got a defensive stop with a chance to cut further into the margin. But after Miles called timeout with 9 seconds remaining on the shot clock, Nebraska failed to get a shot off before the shot clock expired with 1:34 remaining in the game.
Miles took fault, saying he waited too long before calling timeout. That was among a handful of empty possessions in each half he pointed to as potential turning points in the game for Nebraska.
“A game like this,” Miles said, “you’re only going to get so many chances to win.”
Nebraska’s defense played stout enough to satisfy Miles. The Huskers badgered Keita Bates-Diop, a frontrunner for Big Ten Player of the Year honors, with a barrage of double teams, although he still scored 20 points on 8-of-16 shooting. Ohio State, the Big Ten's top shooting team, shot just 36 percent in the first half.
The biggest difference for the Buckeyes after halftime was a turnover-free second half, along with some easier looks in the paint, thanks to foul trouble on Nebraska.
Ohio State (18-4, 9-0) wasn’t expecting an easy game, Tate said, especially knowing Nebraska assistant coach Michael Lewis had coached on the same staff with first-year Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann when the two were at Butler.
“We knew Nebraska is a tough team, one of the toughest teams in the Big Ten. From the start, we knew it was going to be a grind-it-out game,” Tate said. “We weren’t making the correct play, the correct reads, because they have such a good defense. They like to double, and they were really making us uncomfortable in the first half, whereas in the second half, they kind of did the same thing, but we were able to slow it down a little bit.”
Ohio State was playing with one day’s rest and concluding a stretch of four games in nine days. Monday, however, marked the first of four straight home games for the Buckeyes. While a remarkable, unusual stretch for conference play, it’s not unprecedented for Ohio State, which also had a four-game conference home stand in 1987.
Now Nebraska continues it grueling stretch against a much-improved Rutgers team. The Scarlet Knights are 12-9 overall and 2-6 in Big Ten play after losing 62-47 at Michigan on Sunday. Rutgers is 12-5 on its home court.
“If we don’t approach Rutgers the same way we approached tonight, we’ll get beat,” Miles said. “Anywhere you go, you just have to have the same mentality of how you’re going to compete.”
Reach Brian at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.