Photo by Isabel Thalken/Nebraska Communications

Michigan Succumbs To Husker 'D" And PBA

By Brian Rosenthal

They were relentless, really, providing pressure throughout the game, along with some new wrinkles that greatly pestered their opponent.

Even with the outcome decided, this was no time to ease up on what had been working so well. So they kept at, their pent-up energy continuing to unfurl, revealing the passion they had stored for this very game.

For that, the Red Zone earns a gold star.

“Even I was chanting ‘Wagner!’ ” a smiling Nebraska coach Tim Miles said.

Yes, give the Nebraska student section, and the Pinnacle Bank Arena crowd of 14,598 fans, a huge assist in the Huskers’ 72-52 victory over No. 23 Michigan on Thursday night. The electric atmosphere from start to finish provided the home team an extra boost in collecting a much-needed victory over an upper-echelon Big Ten Conference team.

“It was really cool, especially that first half when we started to kind of take a lead, it was one of those things that, like I said, I got chills,” Miles said. “Students were just phenomenal. I thought they really did a great job.”

They pounced after sensing frustration from the normally cool Wolverines, who are accustomed to swishing 3-pointers, bolting to early leads and often running away laughing in games against Nebraska.

Remember Michigan’s 93-57 victory here to end last season? The Wolverines were 14-of-27 on 3-pointers in handing Nebraska its worst home defeat ever.

“When they started getting shot after shot after shot, it kind of took a toll on our team,” Nebraska forward Isaiah Roby said after that game. “Personally, I won’t forget this.”

A year later, a physically more mature Roby held true to his words.

Now a sophomore, Roby scored a career-high 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting in yet another stat sheet-stuffing performance – three rebounds, three assists, two blocked shots and a steal. It all helped Nebraska finally slay a Big Ten monster; Michigan had been the only conference men's basketball team the Huskers had yet to defeat since joining the league in 2011.

“It’s big. It’s good to kind of flip the tables on them, I guess you could say,” Roby said. “It was a big game for us, for sure. It was fun to get a win like that.”

The 6-foot-8 Roby started for a second straight game at the five spot in place of 6-11 Jordy Tshimanga, who returned to the lineup Thursday but didn’t start after missing two games because of personal reasons. He did play 7 minutes, his initial entrance to a loud, warm ovation from Husker fans, who kept cheering as Tshimanga immediately assisted Roby on a dunk.

Nebraska counted on Roby’s athleticism to switch positions 1-through-5 in defending Michigan, while his overall skill set created an offensive mismatch, too.

“Them playing with Roby as a five-man is a nightmare for a lot of teams,” Michigan coach John Beilein said.  “He can shoot 3s as well, he’s very, very skilled. You saw the first play, Tim tried to take Mo off the dribble right away, just to get Mo in foul trouble.”

Indeed, Roby drew Michigan big man Moritz Wagner to the top of the key before swishing a 3-pointer to open the game’s scoring. That marked the beginning of a long game for Moritz, who averages 15 points but scored only two points in 32 minutes.

So Wagner became an easy target for the Red Zone, who mercilessly chanted his last name (pronounced “Vagner”) throughout the game. When he finally took a seat, the student section chanted, “We want Vagner! We want Vagner!”

James Palmer Jr. scored 19 points, including a nasty step-back 3-pointer for a 56-39 lead with 7:38 remaining, to lead Nebraska, which shot 60 percent in the first half and finished shooting 55.3 percent. The Huskers defeated their second ranked team by double digits this season, and recorded their biggest margin of victory over a ranked team since a 72-44 victory over Bobby Knight’s No. 25 Texas Tech team in 2004.

Michigan (16-5, 5-3 Big Ten Conference) suffered its most lopsided loss to an unranked team since 2007, when it lost 87-66 to Florida State in the second round of the National Invitational Tournament. This was the Wolverines’ worst loss this season, surpassing an 86-71 defeat to then-No. 13 North Carolina.

Nebraska (14-7, 5-3) is off to its best start through eight games of conference play since the 2005-06 team began the Big 12 season 5-3 in coach Barry Collier’s final season. The Huskers held Michigan to season lows in points (52), 3-pointers made (four) and 3-point percentage (22.2), and also forced 12 turnovers in keeping the Wolverines out of synch.

“They were verbally frustrated,” Roby said. “They were yelling at each other, and you could see we were feeding off it, the crowd was feeding off it. I mean, it started early with them.”

Remember, Michigan had shot a combined 36-of-70 on 3-pointers – 51.4 percent – over its previous three games against Nebraska. That’s why Miles and his staff, notably assistant Kenya Hunter, worked diligently in the offseason to find ways to play better defense against teams that spread the floor.

“I thought Kenya made some adjustments, some of the switches and some of that, and I thought our guys bought in,” Miles said. “They were very focused, very competitive with energy, and did a great job. I’m really proud of our guys.”

Nebraska held Michigan without a field goal for a stretch of 7:20 in the first half. The Wolverines made only two free throws in that time, as the Huskers stretched their lead to 12 points.

“It’s a great team to have when you have a bunch of 6-7, 6-8 guys who are interchangeable,” Beilein said of the Huskers’ defense. “We couldn’t utilize any height advantage inside.”

Michigan, led by guard Charles Matthews with 15 points, cut the margin to eight a couple of times early in the second half. Nebraska responded with a 6-0 run, then senior guard Anton Gill, making his second straight start, hit a couple of 3-pointers to help the Huskers stretch the lead back to 18.

The Wolverines got no closer than 12 thereafter, and Nebraska led by as many as 21 points.

“We got beat by a better team,” Beilein said. “This is not just one game. Nebraska is good. I’m a believer. They’ve got a lot of weapons; they’ve got a good pace about them. They make 3s. This is the way it’s going to be. They’re going to have a good year.

“We have a few teams in this league who are really elite, and they’re one of those teams that is growing leaps and bounds every single day. Who goes to Northwestern and beats them like that? They’re good. They beat Minnesota when Minnesota had everybody. They’re good, all right? Nebraska is good.”

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

 

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