BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Three possessions. In coach Tim Miles’ mind, that’s all it took.
Nebraska had complete control of the game’s tempo and pace for the first 15 minutes, deliberately surveying Indiana’s defense for the best isolated matchups and aggressively swarming on the other end to keep the No. 22 Hoosiers from getting comfortable.
But Miles worried that the Huskers looked tired, perhaps even flirting with foul trouble. So he switched out of his man-to-man defense, commanding his players to settle into a 2-3 zone.
He second-guessed himself almost immediately. After about three possessions, really.
Indiana made a 3-pointer, a layup and a free throw — what proved to be enough to spark a potent Hoosier offense. IU overwhelmed Nebraska (14-13, 6-8) just before halftime and right after it Wednesday night, earning an 80-64 win.
“It doesn’t take much of a mistake for these guys to hurt you,” Miles said. “I just regret those three possessions of zone. I know it’s just three possessions in 65, or whatever. But I regret those. I thought that maybe opened up a can of worms that we didn’t need to open.”
Nebraska, ahead for most of the early action, took a 27-21 lead when junior Tai Webster made a layup with at the 5:55 mark in the first half.
But that’s when NU switched to its zone look.
Cue the Indiana blitz. The Hoosiers scored on nine of their next 10 possessions, totaling 20 points in just more than five minutes.
During that stretch, Miles was called for a technical because he disagreed with a call and slapped the floor in protest. Junior Andrew White missed the front end of two one-and-ones. NU’s two big men, Michael Jacobson and Jake Hammond, both picked up their second fouls.
“That was disappointing,” freshman Jack McVeigh said. “They killed us. They hit these big shots. We just gave them the momentum going into the second half. The crowd was rocking.”
And it could have been worse — point guard Yogi Ferrell’s 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer was waved off after video replay. IU still had a 41-34 edge at the break, and the Hoosiers scored 11 more points on their first five second-half possessions to essentially put the game away.
“The story of the game is we didn’t play good enough defense,” Miles said. “We didn’t control tempo. They got quick scores. That’s a death sentence against Indiana, especially here.”
The Huskers made 13 of their first 23 shots, but once they started misfiring offensively, it gave the Hoosiers the opportunity to jumpstart their transition attack off defensive rebounds. And according to Miles, NU’s players didn’t get back on defense quickly enough, they weren’t able to settle into their own responsibilities and they had a few mental breakdowns.
“An effort deal,” Miles said.
Indiana made NU pay, like it has so often this year.
The Hoosiers came into Saturday’s game shooting 50.3 percent from the field, second best nationally. Their spurts have drained the will away from worthy league opponents like Ohio State and Michigan. They’re 15-0 at Assembly Hall.
Nebraska didn’t give in, exactly.
The Huskers pulled within eight points on Webster’s layup at the 9:14 mark, but their next six possessions resulted in four turnovers and two missed 3-pointers.
But Miles said NU’s “downhill slide” began well before that. He made the first unprompted reference to his failed zone strategy in the postgame press conference. He pointed to it a few times.
Indiana made 11 of its 13 shots from the field after that. The Hoosiers scored 33 points on 17 possessions, Miles said.
Nebraska just couldn’t keep up.
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