Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Huskers Eager To Face 'Fearless' Creighton

By Brian Rosenthal

The conversation in the Nebraska locker room after Thursday’s practice went something like this.

First, senior guard James Palmer Jr. piped up and said the Huskers needed to beat Creighton for coach Tim Miles, who’s yet to defeat the Bluejays in six tries. Senior forward Isaac Copeland Jr. responded by saying a victory over Nebraska’s instate rival would be good for senior guard Glynn Watson Jr., who’s endured more losses to Creighton than any other player on the Nebraska roster.

“And then,” junior forward Isaiah Roby said, recalling the story, “I think it was Thomas Allen who said, ‘We’ve got to win it for us.’

“We all want to beat Creighton.”

Roby knows the Nebraska fan base does, too.

Badly.

“I get a lot of people who are like, ‘I don’t even care how you guys do, just beat Creighton,’ ” Roby said Friday. “Obviously, we want to win every game, but there’s a little added incentive when you play somebody as the same state as you.”

Especially when you have lost seven games in a row, all by double-digit margins, to said somebody.

But perhaps for only the second time during this streak, Nebraska enters its annual game against Creighton as the team with the upper hand, expected to win.

No. 24 Nebraska (7-2, 1-1 Big Ten Conference) resumes nonconference play Saturday with a 5:10 p.m. game against Creighton (6-2, 0-0 Big East Conference) at sold-out Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln.

Nebraska also thought it had the better team in 2014, when Creighton, in its first season sans All-American Doug McDermott and his supporting cast, made its inaugural visit to Pinnacle Bank Arena. The Bluejays deflated a large, hungry, hopeful crowd and left with a 65-55 victory to snap Nebraska’s 12-game home winning streak.

The Huskers didn't fare any better in their 2016 home game against Creighton. Nebraska missed 11 of its first 12 field goal attempts, fell behind 18-4 and lost 77-62 in a game it shot just 32 percent. A crowd of 15,902 was among 10 in Pinnacle Bank Arena history to exceed 15,900. The building record is 15,998.

Saturday’s number could be in that neighborhood.

“It’s going to be an awesome environment,” Roby said. “It’s going to be loud in there. We’ve got to keep our composure and stay in the moment.”

Even if Nebraska is fortunate enough to feed off the crowd’s early energy and build a quick lead, Roby warns the Huskers can’t get complacent. Not against a team with the offensive firepower of Creighton. The Bluejays average 84.6 points per game and shoot 46 percent on 3-pointers.

“They have no fear at all,” Roby said. “Everybody on the court, they can just let it go whenever.”

Roby seemed in awe of watching the Bluejays on film, describing players taking contested shots some five steps off the 3-point line.

And making them.

“You’ve got to be ready at all times with a team like that,” Roby said. “A team like that, when they’re fearless with their shooting, they can get hot. They can get hot at any time, so you’ve got to be ready at all times.”

Miles knows all too well this is a mark of a Greg McDermott team. The Creighton coach is 14-0 all-time against Miles at various stops for both coaches.

“Coach McDermott has a tremendous brand and a great program in terms of those guys are an elite offensive team,” Miles said. “They do great. They do transition great, they make 3s in a great way, and those are two of the hardest things to guard.”

Of course, the Bluejays have faced few teams with the defensive credentials of Nebraska. The Huskers are holding teams to 37 percent shooting, a mark that ranks No. 12 nationally, and limiting foes to 26.1 percent shooting on 3-pointers. Nebraska also ranks sixth nationally in scoring defense, at 57.9 points per game. One Creighton foe with similar defensive numbers, Ohio State, defeated the Bluejays in Omaha, 69-60.

Yet when it comes to this series, Creighton has boasted the better defense over the last decade-plus; the Bluejays have held the Huskers to an average of 58.9 points over the last 14 meetings, and Nebraska has topped 70 points only once in that stretch -- a 73-61 victory in 2006.

Nebraska’s last victory over Creighton came in 2010 in Lincoln, when the Huskers erased a double-digit deficit in the first half and won 59-54.

Trailing 29-21 at halftime, the Huskers exploded out of the locker room to hit 6-of-8 3-pointers in the first seven minutes to take a 43-37 lead. That was the last of a three-game home winning streak in the series for Nebraska.

Nebraska enters the Creighton game as a ranked team for the first time since 1992, when No. 25 Nebraska won 100-83 in Lincoln. Nebraska is 36-20 all time as a ranked team.

The Huskers also have a 16-game home winning streak at stake. The school record is 20, over the 1965-66 and 1966-67 seasons.

For Creighton, Saturday marks its first true road game of the season.

Miles admits this is a big game for him personally, and joked he won’t be happy until he wins 14 in a row against McDermott. But he also said the Creighton game is always big for the team, too.

“It obviously means a lot,” Miles said. “You try and say it doesn’t mean as much as the last game or the next game, but when you’re in it, it means everything. You don’t sleep. You don’t get raccoon eyes because you want ‘em.

“I think they’ll be hyped up, but you’ve got to approach it like, ‘Hey, relax, be aggressive, let’s go have fun with this.’ ”

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

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