With versatile players, Huskers scheme ways to put clamps on opposition
LINCOLN — Seton Hall guard Myles Powell is shifty. He showed that early against the Huskers on Wednesday.
Most of the Pirates’ offense runs through him. So in the first 20 minutes, Seton Hall set multiple high ball screens for Powell, who made a move or two and shimmied into the lane.
He hit five shots in the first half. He drew three fouls. He made all five free throws and went into the half with 15 points.
Inside the locker room, Tim Miles had a somewhat unconventional idea.
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“We took Isaac Copeland, put him right in the middle of the lane,” the coach said.
In the second half, the 6-foot-9 Copeland was an arm’s length away from his man, Sandro Mamukelashvili, with an eye on the cutting big man setting a screen, or a cutting Powell on his way to the rim. Copeland’s presence junked up the lane, throwing off Seton Hall’s pace — and changed the game.
“Changed their whole screen-and- roll game,” Miles said. “Most guys aren’t that ... might not make that play. But we said, ‘Cope, do it, this is how we’re going to switch it out with Glynn (Watson) or one of the other guys,’ and they handled it really well. Didn’t even give up an open look.”
Miles has always been a defensive coach, and he’s done things like this before. But with how versatile Nebraska is on defense — with bigs like Copeland and the 6-foot-8 Isaiah Roby and pesky defenders like 6-6 guard James Palmer and Watson at point guard — it can take some risks, try unconventional things and change a game. And so far, it’s worked.
Nebraska is second in the country in field-goal percentage defense. Teams shoot 28 percent against Nebraska, including 6 for 48 (12.5 percent) from behind the arc. Historically, teams that lead the country in field-goal percentage defense do well in March.
Michigan State led the NCAA last year and won the Big Ten. The year before that, it was Gonzaga, which earned a No. 1 seed and lost in the national championship game to North Carolina.
“There’s not many free looks,” Miles said of his defense. “It’s not very often you see just a wide-open shot for our opponents, and that doesn’t come easily.”
Nebraska kept Seton Hall to 57 points, despite not having Roby in the middle. He was out most of the game in foul trouble, which meant Nebraska had to rely on 6-8 Tanner Borchardt and 6-11 freshman Brady Heiman.
Both can get better, Miles said. But both performed fine.
“They’re built for this,” Miles said. “And they’re ready to do it.”
In the past, Miles hasn’t had the bench to defend like this. To feel comfortable with whoever is out there to jump into a 1-2-2 full court press, or a 1-3-1 zone, then back to man. Or throw a big guy in the middle and junk up ball screens.
There’s room to grow. Miles thinks there always is on defense. But he likes the direction his team is heading on that side of the floor.
“You can do a lot of stuff with them,” Miles said. “You can adjust, you can draw it up on the board, you can be a little unconventional with the screen-and-roll defense like tonight, and they still figure it out.
“And that’s important.”