Photo by Pat Radigan
Story by Becca Mann
Nebrasketball rides 22-point halftime lead to cruise to win
A mix of stop-and-go game play and the first sight of a zone defense plagued the Nebraska men’s basketball team’s second half on their way to an 86-67 win against North Texas on Monday night.
While the Huskers were able to shoot at or above 50 percent in all areas in the first half of play, a sluggish performance in the second led to five turnovers and a drop to just 1-of-9 from three-point range. Nebraska guard James Palmer Jr., who led all scorers with 18 points, said the team focused on putting on a strong first half performance. But according to forward Jack McVeigh, it was the lack of aggression in attacking the zone that ultimately led to 39 missed shots in the second.
The Huskers started the night strong with 16-of-28 field goals and a 28-point lead in the first half, after an 18-0 run helped NU start the game up 25-2. When the teams emerged from the locker rooms, UNT coach Grant McCasland transitioned his team into a zone defense, something Nebraska has yet to experience this season.
Nebraska coach Tim Miles said his team had run zone sets, but hadn’t worked on those looks since Saturday’s 72-68 win against Eastern Illinois. Miles said he knew EIU would be a man-only team, and had an idea that UNT may switch it up on the Huskers.
“You just got to let those guys figure it out sometimes,” Miles said. “It didn’t make for beautiful basketball, unfortunately, but I really liked their mindset to start the game and they never really let the game get back tight at all.”
Aiding Nebraska in its efforts to keep a comfortable lead were the 34 fouls called against the Mean Green. Forward Zachary Simmons and guards Ryan Woolridge and A.J. Lawson fouled out in the second half. Three other North Texas players, Shane Temara, Jorden Duffy and Tope Arikawe, finished with four fouls as the game slowed down in the second half.
Even with the choppy play, Miles was not looking to make excuses for his team. What he did find solace in was how the Huskers worked through the offensive slowdown, and did enough to keep the Mean Green from mounting any sort of rally.
“What I look for [is] did we take the right kind of shots; did we make the right decisions to get us the right kind of shots.” Miles said.
Nebraska forced 17 turnovers and earned 30 of its points off of those. The Huskers blocked nine shots as they did in the season opener, when NU accomplished that feat for the first time since January 2011. Miles said the way the game went opened up opportunities for offensive rebounds, something his team took advantage of by grabbing 20 on the night.
Palmer led Nebraska’s offensive efforts with his 18 points on 6-of-13 shooting. Junior Glynn Watson chipped in an additional 15 in his 29 minutes of play while sophomore Isaiah Roby matched his effort from Saturday with 11.
Miles went deep into his bench, with 14 of the 16 names on NU’s roster earning playing time and eleven of those tallying at least a point. Freshmen guards Nana Akenten and Thorir Thorbjarnarson burned their redshirts on Monday night, and combined for a total nine minutes of play.
Husker fans earned a taste of what is still to come this year from a team predicted to finish above only Rutgers in some preseason polls. Miles said a balance between protecting the rim and covering in the paint is still to be desired, and from what Husker fans have seen the past two games, will be key in NU’s success this season.
But after two wins, 18 blocked shots and a combined 158 points from 11 different scorers, Nebraska’s head man is excited for what his team has shown themselves capable of after the opening weekend of the year.
“I thought that we’ve learned from our previous start where we didn’t share the ball and didn’t guard the ball,” Miles said. “We had two goals tonight; pass the ball, guard the ball. I thought we did that well for a long time.”