Nebraska saw a six-point lead disintegrate over the final two minutes of play and a trio of 3-pointers from Rutgers sent the Huskers to their fifth consecutive loss. After losing by 17 at home to the Scarlet Knights less than a month ago, it was a far more commendable effort from the Huskers on Saturday.
Here are five takeaways from another heartbreaker.
Credit Fred Hoiberg for not letting this string of losses change the amount of effort given.
This is a completely lost season for Nebraska, yet the effort continues to be consistently strong since the first half of the Creighton game.
It’s hard to stay motivated when there is nothing to play for, but Nebraska is still dialed in. That’s a huge testament to the mental approach that Hoiberg and the rest of the staff have taken this year.
Even after Rutgers guard Geo Baker put his team in front with a 3-pointer with 1.2 second left, no one on Nebraska was visibly distraught. Since Nebraska joined the Big Ten, there have been more seasons than not where this level of losing took a devastating mental toll on the team, and it’s refreshing to see this group keep things in perspective.
There are plenty of lessons to be learned from the final several minutes of this game.
There have been plenty of close games throughout the season, but not many where Nebraska was ahead in the final minutes by a comfortable margin. That’s a foreign situation for this group.
This likely won’t be the last time this year that the Huskers are in this situation either, and the three minutes of empty possessions to end the game will likely be studied plenty in film tomorrow.
I also doubt that Fred Hoiberg had planned on using freshman guard Charlie Easley and junior guard Jervay Green in crunch time of a game holding a close lead. I’m not sure he regrets it, but it likely changed the types of sets Nebraska was running, and I’m surprised he stuck with both after the first two empty possessions.
In a year where the results are secondary to improvement, having as much experience in close games will be valuable for both coaches and players.
Nebraska flipped the script on its usual start.
A big reason Nebraska stayed in this game was because of its start. Since returning to conference play, it seems like every opponent has started the game out by nailing several 3-pointers to take a commanding early lead.
Today, it was the Huskers doing just that with a 9-2 run to open the game, setting the tone that today would be different from the previous meeting. Playing in front of a sellout crowd celebrating being ranked for the first time in decades, it was even more impressive that Nebraska started out as strong as it did.
It’ll be interesting to see if the Huskers have a similar start to Tuesday’s game against Michigan.
Jervay Green had yet another solid game and was rewarded for it.
For the fourth straight game, Nebraska was much better with Green on the court than it was without him. The physicality of Rutgers played to Green’s strengths, mainly driving to the lane.
As a result, he shot 5-7 and scored 11 points, his best game since before his two-game suspension.
It wasn’t unnoticed, either. Hoiberg rewarded Green by keeping him in for most of the second half, as well as the entirety of crunch time. It’s not clear how much has changed with the embattled junior behind the scenes, but he appears to be earning more favor from his head coach every game.
Credit Rutgers for pulling out a can’t-lose game.
This would have been a devastating loss for Rutgers.
There are few bad losses in Big Ten play this year, but losing at home to the No. 165 team in the NET rankings would be one of them. That would have qualified as a quadrant four loss, which would severely damage the Scarlet Knights’ NCAA Tournament resume.
Down six with two minutes left, I honestly thought Nebraska had this game won. Credit Rutgers Coach Steve Pikiell for keeping his team engaged on the defensive end even after a couple empty possessions on offense.
A lot of people have used Rutgers being ranked as a reason that college basketball is having a down year, but this team is no fluke. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Scarlet Knights have an early exit from the NCAA Tournament, but they are certainly deserving of a spot in it.