CHARLESTON, S.C. — Nebraska coach Tim Miles’ three main fears about his basketball team all played a part in Thursday’s 96-90 loss to Massachusetts in the first round of the Charleston Classic.
Still, the Huskers had the ball with 25 seconds left and a chance to tie before falling to the Minutemen, who are 4-0 and receiving votes in both polls.
“I commend our guys for fighting back,’’ Miles said. Yet there were three things NU (3-1) couldn’t overcome in front of about 1,000 fans at TD Arena, including a boisterous bunch of 200 dressed in red.
The first: lack of depth.
The Huskers, with a rotation of nine scholarship players, couldn’t hold up after three of them fouled out, and three others were whistled for four fouls.
The officiating crew called 61 fouls, which led to 82 free throws.
“We’ve got to adjust to the way the fouls are being called,’’ said NU wing Terran Petteway, who scored a career high 28 points in 29 minutes. He picked up his fourth foul with 16:22 left, and fouled out with 2:30 to go.
“Once UMass got us in the bonus,’’ Petteway said, “they knew the refs were going to call fouls, and they just put their heads down and went to the hole. What was it, 15 minutes left when they got to the bonus?’’
It was with 14:57 to play. The double bonus started at 9:30.
The second problem for Nebraska: shaky interior defense due to lack of size.
The Huskers turned UMass two-time all-conference point guard Chaz Williams into a nonfactor, holding him to 3 of 7 shooting with as many turnovers (three) as assists.
“We did a good job on Chaz, but it left us vulnerable inside,’’ Miles said. “I thought we could get that under control. I was wrong.’’
Massachusetts got a combined 44 points and 22 rebounds from 6-foot-10, 250-pound Cady Lalanne; 6-8, 220-pound Sampson Carter; and 6-8, 215-pound Maxie Esho — all third- or fourth-year players with noticeably cut physiques.
“We didn’t get enough rebounds to end defensive possessions,’’ Miles said. “We forced them into some tough shots, but we weren’t physical enough to end the possession.
“And then in managing foul trouble, we could never get a big enough lineup to get those defensive stops.’’
Miles’ third worry: inexperience, with seven scholarship newcomers.
It showed at the start of both halves. Massachusetts outscored Nebraska 11-3 to start the game and 11-4 to start the second half.
“They were more aggressive,’’ Miles said. “We were a little slow to it. They are a veteran team and took advantage of us. Consider it a lesson learned.’’
Still, after using makeshift lineups throughout the game, Nebraska rallied from a 78-65 deficit with 9:30 to go to close to 89-87 on two free throws from Tai Webster with 1:39 to go.
Then, with the clock ticking inside 30 seconds and the Huskers trailing 93-90, they forced a turnover. Instead of shooting a 3, they went inside to David Rivers, whose layup curled in and out with 20 seconds left.
Nebraska trailed by double digits four times in the second half, but Massachusetts couldn’t put the Huskers away.
“We had an opportunity to, but they weren’t going to go away,’’ UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “We had a couple of bad turnovers that let them back in the game.
“And Coach Miles has instilled his demeanor and toughness in those guys. When you are building a program, you want guys who aren’t going to quit, and Nebraska has got them.’’
At courtside, it was easy to hear the Minutemen trash-talking and crowing while on runs. Petteway said he enjoyed quieting them down.
“They did all their talking and yelling when they got big leads,’’ he said. “So every huddle, we talked about sticking together. We hung in and came back, but couldn’t quite get over the hump.
“If they hadn’t been in the bonus so early, I think we would have pulled it out.’’
Nebraska will play UAB in the second round Friday, with tipoff at 11 a.m. CST. The Blazers lost to No. 19 New Mexico 97-94 in double overtime.
“We’re going to have to pick ourselves up,’’ Miles said. “There’s no time for a pity party in a tournament like this. You’ve got to find a way to be at your best.’’