Huskers In Funk, With Time To Fix
A couple of bad games in January, or any month, for that matter, do not define a basketball season.
To be sure, nobody is discounting the fact Nebraska has hit a rough patch, for reasons that can debated, but perhaps a Tweet from sophomore Nana Akenten can best highlight the main point here.
We gon be alright.. Stay with us. https://t.co/AHv8d0qzld— Nana Akenten (@nbasfuture) January 26, 2019
Akenten sent that Tweet less than an hour after Nebraska suffered a 70-60 defeat to an Ohio State team that broke a five-game losing streak at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Saturday.
He also sent it before another tweet, a heartbreaking one from senior Isaac Copeland Jr., who suffered a knee injury early in the second half.
Husker nation thank you for welcoming me with open arms. Unfortunately my time here as a player was cut short due to injury. Keep me in your prayers and keep supporting our team ! Love ❤️ #GBR— isaac copeland (@Isaac_CurlJuice) January 26, 2019
Social media can be a vicious place after a loss, let alone three in a row, which is the dubious streak the Huskers now carry. Yet Akenten’s message generated an encouraging amount of positive feedback.
Keep pushing Nana all Husker nation is behind you!!👊🏼— JJ Metschke (@JJ_Metschke) January 26, 2019
We’re with you. Come out strong 💪🏿on Tuesday against Wisconsin! Get your swagger back! GBR!!— Jon Callahan (@jonnyc300) January 26, 2019
What a great post and a sign of leadership.— Craig Wilkins (@CraigWilkins7) January 26, 2019
Of course, Nebraska coach Tim Miles knows the current negativity on social media probably far outweighs the responses to Akenten, or to Copeland, who received an overwhelming number of supportive and thankful messages from Nebraska fans.
“When I get to my kitchen at home, I’m going to hear the same things you see on Twitter,” Miles said. “Nobody’s happy. I want (fans) to be upset, but I want them to hang in there with us, because I believe in these guys, and I think we can do it.”
Miles noted the equity Nebraska had built before its recent skid.
“But a double and a triple bogey," he said, "don’t make anybody feel very good."
Miles and the Huskers could also wish for mulligan, or two, but the bottom line is the calendar has yet to flip to February, and plenty of time exists to steer this thing through the mud and muck, even though the hill becomes steeper with the loss of Copeland, who suffered a torn ACL in his left knee.
“Just got to stay positive,” Nebraska senior guard Glynn Watson Jr. said, “come back tomorrow, watch film, get better, get back in the gym.”
Miles knows Nebraska’s next opponent, Wisconsin, won’t give a hoot about the Huskers’ current issues on Tuesday, when the Badgers visit Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“They’re going to come in here and slug it out,” Miles said, “and we have to have the same mentality.”
Miles talked about mentality and mindset this past week, after Monday’s defeat at Rutgers. Yet whatever focus, work or talk coaches gave the matter did not produce the desired results before a hopeful, hungry home crowd.
Ohio State, not a team known for a formidable frontcourt, won the battle on the boards, and grabbed 14 rebounds on its 34 missed shots, resulting in 14 points.
Meanwhile, Nebraska, like against Rutgers, couldn’t convert at the rim, going 4-of-12 on virtual layups in the first half alone.
“They were getting what they wanted pretty easy,” Nebraska junior forward Isaiah Roby said. “We did, too, at first, but they started locking up better than we did.”
The Buckeyes took control in the second half with 3-pointers on four straight possessions to take a 12-point lead, and after Watson scored six straight for Nebraska, they hit another one, a shot-clock buzzer beater by Luther Muhammad that hit every part of the rim and backboard before falling though.
“It feels to me and looks to me like we just can’t get out of our own way,” Miles said. “I thought we looked like a frustrated team and a team that’s not focused on playing with great effort and playing with great energy.”
Naturally, the million-dollar question is how to fix it, and what buttons to push. If any coach had that immediate answer, we wouldn’t be talking about such consternation.
We do know this: Before the season, Miles expected some pressure on a veteran team, with high expectations, to reach the NCAA Tournament after last year’s near miss, and win when the Husker got there. Such pressure seemed non-existent when the Huskers began the season 11-2, looking all the part against the likes of Seton Hall, Clemson, Creighton and, just last week, Indiana.
“We’ve seen these guys play so well, but we can’t brain-freeze ourselves,” Miles said. “They want to be special. They want to go to the NCAA Tournament. They want to do exceptional things.”
Why this team is suddenly feeling that pressure, as Miles believes is the case, is anybody’s guess. Perhaps the close loss to Michigan State, a game in which Nebraska hoped to stake its claim as a Big Ten-contending team, deflated the Huskers.
Yet one loss shouldn’t turn into three, and as a result, the Huskers are suddenly mired in a funk. They must now must find their way out without the services of Copeland, who averaged 14.3 points and 5.6 rebounds.
“I am broken hearted for Isaac,” Miles said. “He is a young man who had every option available to him last spring, but wanted to come back and help lead the Huskers back to the NCAA Tournament and beyond. He has meant so much to our program and has been a valued leader in the Husker basketball family since arriving on campus two years ago. In typical Isaac fashion, he was the most vocal player in the huddle even after his injury, encouraging his teammates and showing leadership even though he was unable to play.”
With or without Copeland, Miles wants his team to relax and play winning basketball.
“I think we have a strong relationship with our guys," he said, "and we have to go out there and get them in a good place.”
Reach Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.