Huskers seek fix for late-game defensive woes as road game at Iowa looms
Sometimes basketball is a pretty simple game.
Shoot its season average from the free-throw line against Maryland, and Nebraska has two more points in what turned out to be a two-point loss. Play their normal three-point defense, and the Huskers hold the Terps to three or four fewer threes than the eight they made.
Suddenly a tough loss is a nice win. And maybe Isaiah Roby gets a little more sleep.
But it was a loss. And one frustrating enough to make Nebraska’s forward a little bleary-eyed the next day.
“I didn’t even go to sleep until like 6 a.m. after the Maryland game. I was so mad I couldn’t sleep on the plane (on the trip home),” Roby said Saturday. “Then yesterday in film, we’re usually talking and stuff, and Glynn’s not saying anything. He’s in there; he’s mad. We’re all mad about it.”
Anger is fine as long as you can channel it in the proper way, NU coach Tim Miles said. For the Huskers, that means finding the fixes to a defense that has failed to a startling degree in Nebraska’s two Big Ten losses away from Lincoln.
With Nebraska (11-3, 1-2 Big Ten) going on the road yet again to play Iowa (11-3, 0-3) on Sunday in a 4:30 p.m. tip in Iowa City, finding the right formula quickly is important in what has suddenly become a game of great importance for both teams.
The Huskers could very well be 3-0 in the league if not for a series of defensive breakdowns that came after NU had built good leads against both Minnesota and Maryland.
Take the loss to the Terps: From the 15:30 mark of the second half — when Nebraska led by eight and Maryland was at the end of a string of 12 misses in 13 shot attempts — to the end of the game, the Huskers were outscored 35-25.
Maryland made 14 of 22 shots (64 percent) in that stretch. The Terps rebounded six of their eight misses and scored 10 second-chance points. Of the 35 points, 20 came in the paint. Maryland scored 1.46 points per possession during the run. Nebraska’s goal for each game is to hold its opponent to 0.99 points per possession or less.
It was a similar story against Minnesota: Nebraska was outscored 27-10 over the final 8:42 as a 10-point lead vanished. The Gophers hit 8-of-13 shots (62 percent) and scored 1.59 points per possession while scoring 12 of the 27 points in the paint.
“We’re not playing aggressive enough defensively. We’re kind of relaxing off the ball; we’re not playing five as one,” Roby explained. “We’ve just got to be engaged every play. Even when we build leads on the road, we can’t get complacent. We’ve got to keep competing every play.”
It is a very fine line in the Big Ten. Both Minnesota and Maryland look the part of pretty good teams, and Nebraska had control of both games. The Huskers led for more than 31 minutes against Minnesota and for more than 23 against the Terps.
But to turn close games into victories, a team must play to the buzzer.
“It’s capitalizing on those chances when we have an opportunity to build the lead or seize the moment,” Miles said. “It’s not difficult to get yourself upset over what happened at Maryland. Maryland is a high-quality team. I think we’ve seen Minnesota is a high-quality team.
“When you have those opportunities and how you handle it and how you put it into play the next time out and do it consistently is what’s important to me.”
Rebounding was always going to be a concern for this Nebraska team, and that has borne itself out in Nebraska’s two league losses. Better execution and attention to detail will mitigate the issue if not entirely solve it.
So will a short memory.
“There might be an instance where it feels like the same thing again. And you just can’t allow that,” Miles said. “Don’t major in history. They’re all dead.”