Mindset Concerns Miles In Rutgers Loss
East Piscataway, N.J. – A reporter covering Rutgers basketball entered the media room following the Scarlet Knights’ 76-69 victory over Nebraska on Monday night and offered a general proclamation to anyone listening.
“That’s a better win than Ohio State,” he said, comparing this game to Rutgers’s three-point defeat of then-No. 16 Ohio State here on Jan. 9.
“Nebraska is much better. That’s an NCAA Tournament team.”
We’ll assume this reporter is rightly judging the Huskers overall for the season, and not solely on this performance.
Plenty of time remains for Nebraska to prove him right, too – we’re still less than halfway through Big Ten Conference play – but the Huskers can ill afford many more outings like this one before a sparse but hearty crowd at The RAC.
Nebraska (13-6, 3-5 Big Ten) shot 10-of-18 on free throws, 9-of-21 on attempts at the rim, surrendered a 13-point lead, allowed runs of 15-0, 8-0 and 8-0 and collected 10 fewer rebounds.
All of this came against a Rutgers team that had lost three straight games, including a 45-point loss at Purdue.
On a night full of frustrations, what frustrated Nebraska coach Tim Miles the most?
“I think if you just look at our general sloppiness,” Miles said. “We had probably 11 turnovers in the first 23 minutes of the game, and we’re not a team that turns it over a great deal. You look at the little things, like when we missed layups early. There was a play at the end where we have the rebound – two guys have the rebound – and we drop it.”
Rutgers (9-9, 2-6) enjoyed a boost of momentum and spirit with the return of junior forward Eugene Omoruyi, who’d dislocated his knee cap in that upset of Ohio State and missed the next three games. The team’s leading scorer and rebounder for the season, Omoruyi played with a heavy knee brace and finished with eight points and six rebounds in 25 minutes.
But freshman guard Montez Mathis did more damage with his career-high 20 points, or 13 more than his season average.
“He’s a big, strong guard, and I didn’t love our matchup on him,” Miles said of Mathis. “He hurt us different ways. He drove it, got fouled, got on the offensive glass.
“Rutgers played very hard. Coach (Steve) Pikiell does an excellent job. They fight you and they scrap and they make plays. I just question our mindset, but I also credit Rutgers.”
The mindset concern for Miles begins and ends with the poor free-throw shooting. The 10-of-18 mark is the worst of the season for a team that entered the game making free throws at a 75-percent clip in Big Ten play, and is even more discouraging when considering the Huskers missed the front end of three one-and-one opportunities.
“Free throws are mental toughness, in my mind,” Miles said. “It’s a closed skill. It’s about preparation, it’s about a routine. It’s not a competitive deal. You’re just standing there. When guys who usually shoot better than that aren’t making them, then that says something about mindset, to me.”
So did the missed layups.
Easy missed layups.
“And it was a plethora of guys,” Miles said.
James Palmer Jr. scored 22 points on 7-of-18 shooting from the field, and 5-of-9 on free throws, to lead Nebraska. His biggest shot came when he swished a 35-footer at the halftime buzzer to finish a 5-0 run and give the Huskers a 38-33 lead.
That pivotal change in momentum came after Nebraska had lost a 31-18 lead when Rutgers scored 15 unanswered points in less than 4 minutes.
What happened in that tide-turning run?
“One thing is we challenged our bench to come in and helps us, and they made a couple of defensive errors,” Miles said. “Second, we turned it over. We shot ourselves in the foot and let Rutgers, really, when we were in a good spot to maybe take control, right back in the game.
“All the good work you’ve done for the first six possessions is gone. Every time we had a chance to build on a lead, we didn’t. That’s how you lose. That’s a recipe for losing.”
Nebraska trailed by seven when Glynn Watson Jr. hit a 3-pointer with 4:02 remaining to draw the Huskers within four. Later, Isaiah Roby fought for a loose ball at the center circle, and while lying on the court threw a pass to an open Palmer on the left wing. Palmer hit a 3-pointer to force a 67-67 tie with 2:02 to play.
But the Huskers never went ahead. Myles Johnson rebounded a missed Omoruyi layup and scored with 1:39 remaining, and while Nebraska missed a variety of 3-pointers and floaters on its next three possessions, Rutgers extended its lead at the free-throw line, much to the delight of the crowd of 5,022.
Nebraska, after a long night and early morning of travel back to Lincoln, has the rest of the week to regroup for a Saturday morning home game with Ohio State, the first of back-to-back home games for the Huskers.
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