Nebraska men’s basketball team, within the competitive confines of the Big Ten this season, has had a distinct formula for victory, especially following the team’s COVID-19 pause.
For about 32 minutes on Tuesday night against Maryland, everything was going according to plan. The Huskers were defending well and responding enough to the Terrapins to stay more than competitive. Perhaps no response was bigger than senior guard Kobe Webster’s 3-pointer with 8:12 remaining, which tied the game at 44.
It appeared Nebraska had a real shot at stealing a game from a fringe-NCAA Tournament contender. Instead, the Huskers fell apart down the stretch — perhaps due to the fatigue caused by playing six games in 11 days.
Maryland closed the game on a 17-5 run, and picked up a much-needed win in the process . Nebraska, meanwhile, committed a comedy of errors in another anemic offensive performance.
Here are five takeaways from the loss:
Maryland’s guards steal the show
When I analyzed this game on Monday in my preview, I noted the importance of Maryland’s dynamic guard trio of senior guard Darryl Morsell and junior guards Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala. When the three of them are on their game, the Terrapins have success.
Although Morsell drilled a half-court shot to give the Terrapins a 32-28 lead entering halftime, he finished Tuesday night’s contest with five points. Nebraska wasn’t so fortunate in being able to contain Wiggins and Ayala.
In particular, the Huskers had no answer for Wiggins, who had a monster performance. Wiggins finished with game highs in both points and rebounds, with 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting and 11 rebounds. 12 of his points came down the stretch, following the Webster 3-pointer to tie the game at 44.
Wiggins got to the rim with ease, and knocked down some clutch mid-range jumpshots that all-but buried Nebraska late in the game. Ayala contributed a solid 14 points, but did so on an only fair 5-of-13 shooting, including just 2-of-10 from 3-point range. Still, he made plays when called upon and drove the dagger into the Huskers with a late 3-pointer to put Maryland up 15.
In a game that can best be classified as a rock fight offensively, both Wiggins and Ayala made enough winning plays to prevent what would’ve been a devastating loss.
Nebraska’s defense once again comes to play
The Huskers continued their incredible post-pause defensive play with another quality effort against the Terrapins.
Two things are true in regards to Nebraska’s defensive play on Tuesday night. Maryland missed a fair share of open looks — one of the main reasons it finished the contest shooting just 31% (9-of-29) from 3-point range and 43.4% from the field overall.
However, Nebraska did allow just 64 points while forcing 17 turnovers. The Huskers recorded 13 steals, the most since the season-opener against McNeese State. Aside from a few lapses, Nebraska’s defensive effort was on-point as the Huskers continue to prove their worth as an elite defensive squad.
Following Tuesday’s game, the Huskers moved to No. 44 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to Kenpom. For a majority of the night, Nebraska was able to fluster the Terrapins' guards and pick off inside passes. And, much like Sunday’s victory over Penn State, the Huskers’ defense was more than serviceable in helping to mount a winning effort.
Unlike Sunday, Nebraska’s offense couldn’t match up to the task.
Nebraska’s offense? Not so much
The most insane takeaway from Tuesday night’s game is that the Huskers managed just four points from 17 Terrapin turnovers. For comparison, Maryland had 11 points off of 11 Nebraska turnovers.
Nebraska struggled to generate looks in transition, instead being slowed down by a combination of missed open looks, bad shots and turnovers. The Huskers’ inability to convert following Maryland turnovers was essentially the story of Nebraska’s evening, in which opportunity after opportunity went by the wayside. Junior guard Teddy Allen led Nebraska in scoring with 18 points, the lone bright spot in an otherwise brutal offensive showing.
The Huskers shot just 33% from the field, including 28.6% in the second half. As has been the issue all season, Nebraska’s second-half offense was largely stagnant, isolation-heavy and highlighted by horrible shot selection. Nebraska consistently settled for poor outside shots instead of attempting to attack the paint over the game’s final 20 minutes, evidenced by the fact that the Huskers went 2-of-14 from 3-point range in the second half.
It’s hard to identify any one thing that Nebraska did wrong, but as a whole the offense once again looked disjointed. While the Huskers went back-and-forth with Maryland for a majority of the game, a good bit of that was due to objectively poor looks from Allen and junior guard Trey McGowens.
Undersized Terrapins own the paint
One of the reasons why I felt Nebraska could have success entering Tuesday night’s game was due to the nature of Maryland’s roster.
Like Penn State on Sunday, Maryland is a pretty undersized bunch — with no rotational player above 6-foot-9. This could’ve played into Nebraska’s hands, but instead the Huskers largely struggled to operate inside.
The absence of junior forward Derrick Walker for a majority of the game certainly didn’t help matters, but even his presence wouldn’t have mitigated the distinct advantage Maryland held inside. The Terrapins outscored Nebraska 24-14 in the paint, outrebounded Nebraska 43-28 and held a 37-25 advantage on the defensive boards.
According to head coach Fred Hoiberg, Walker was held out in the second half because he “didn’t feel well.” In his absence, Nebraska rolled with an undersized lineup that left wasn’t able to corral important boards or keep the Terrapins out of the paint late in the game.
Despite the loss, Nebraska is primed to compete with the Terrapins tomorrow
Despite the doom and gloom that a loss can bring, there are still plenty of reasons to be optimistic for the second part of this back-to-back.
Nebraska had plenty of opportunities to take a foothold in the game, but it either didn’t make free throws, missed layups or settled for bad shots. It’s highly unlikely that Nebraska turns in a similar performance given the fact it has generally been able to respond from ugly offensive performances.
Following the Huskers’ 48-point outing against Wisconsin last Wednesday, Nebraska racked up 72 points in an overtime loss to Illinois. Nebraska followed a 54-point effort against Ohio State in late December with a 77-point game the following contest against Michigan State. If Nebraska can capitalize on even a few of the opportunities made available to it, a much better offensive performance should be in store.
Secondly, Nebraska has time to adjust to whether it will or will not have Walker tomorrow. His absence made a definite impact on Tuesday night, and him being available will surely improve Nebraska’s chances. If not, Hoiberg can build a gameplan around using an undersized lineup or a combination of sophomore forward Yvan Ouedraogo and freshman center Eduardo Andre.
Look for Hoiberg and Nebraska’s staff to engineer a turnaround tomorrow night, something that should be all-but guaranteed if Nebraska shows any semblance of offensive competency.