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With plenty of time to think, Huskers turn inward for answers while moving on from Rutgers loss

January 26, 2019

Sitting on an airplane at three in the morning gives a guy plenty of time to reflect.

That’s where the guys on the Nebraska men’s basketball team found themselves after Monday’s loss to Rutgers.

The Newark International Airport, where the Huskers were supposed to fly out of, was closed due to bad weather. So after suffering their worst loss of the season, NU’s players and coaches got to bus more than an hour to Philadelphia, where their charter flight back to Lincoln took off at 3:12 a.m. Eastern and didn’t land until after 5 a.m. Central.

“It was different. This is my fifth year playing college basketball, and that’s never happened to me before,” senior Isaac Copeland said Friday. “I think it gave us the time to kind of relax and talk about the loss right away instead of everybody going back home, so I think it worked out for us.”

It almost seems scripted, doesn’t it? The Huskers, riding high early in the year, reach the depths on a gloomy night 1,300 miles from home. They bond over a disaster of a return trip. They change the narrative of a season that, while not over the edge yet, is at least within a day’s drive of the ravine.

Maybe that’s a little too melodramatic. But the Huskers get their first chance to correct course Saturday morning when they host a reeling Ohio State. Tip is set for 11 a.m. at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

“What does this team need? That’s the art of coaching, in that every team’s a different team. This team does not have the same dynamic of last year’s team,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. “This year we have our own challenges, just like Ohio State does, and everybody else in the country.

“So you just have to have your pulse on it, have great relationships with your guys, communicate well where everybody is to get on the same page, and that’s what we’ve spent a lot of time doing this week.”

The Huskers have spent so much time working on themselves that Ohio State prep didn’t begin until the latter stages of Thursday’s practice, Miles said. With an uncharacteristic four days between games, Nebraska had more time than normal to deal with the issues that have led to four losses in its last six games, and a listless performance at Rutgers.

A team without a real alpha dog has seen Copeland take on a more vocal role. Practices have been harder than normal as NU’s coaching staff has tried to push the proper buttons on a team Miles called soft during his weekly radio show.

Nebraska’s players weren’t surprised to hear, nor did they disagree with, their coach’s assessment.

“We met as a team before we talked to him, so that was kind of the message we had coming into it. Stats or whatever, that don’t really mean nothing to us as far as toughness. We just kind of had a different vibe about it,” Copeland said. “So we all saw it, we just needed to talk about it. So when he came to us it was like, yeah, we agree with that.”

Ohio State has its own problems. The Buckeyes have lost five in a row after a 12-1 start, and at 2-5 in the Big Ten are a half-game behind Nebraska in the league standings.

The Huskers, though, aren’t concerned with what the Buckeyes are dealing with.

“I think what’s hurt us in the times we haven’t played well is ourselves — our own mentality. I’ve talked about it in different ways: sometimes we’re too smart for our own good; we over-think it. We’ve got a lot of deals going on like that,” Miles said. “But we’ve got a lot of strong personalities, good guys, older guys.

“But quite frankly I haven’t done a good job of preparing them for the physicality that they need to have to play successfully the last two or three weeks. I just haven’t done a good enough job getting them ready. But I think we’ve done a better job this week, and I hope it translates to better results.”

[ Chris Basnett’s Big Ten men’s basketball power rankings, 1/22 ]

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