LINCOLN — Coach Tim Miles has long waited for Isaiah Roby to find his alter ego.
Miles has waited — and waited — for Roby to show anger. Or decide to become more aggressive. Before the season, Miles hoped Roby could put aside his kind heart and become a little like Batman.
Against Northwestern on Saturday night, Roby found his cape.
“I would say I got challenged by my teammates a lot to be more aggressive on both ends,” Roby said.
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He dominated the paint in Nebraska’s 59-50 win with 19 points, a career-high 16 rebounds, five blocks, two assists and two steals and a career high three 3-pointers. He caught a shot from Vic Law in the air and pinned it on the backboard. He tossed an outlet pass 70 feet to Amir Harris, which led to an easy dunk. Roby finished his evening spiking Northwestern’s second to last shot off Law’s head to chuckles from the crowd.
“Boy, he ended the game with a flourish,” Miles said. “I just thought he was terrific tonight.”
Nebraska needed a Goliath effort from Roby for its second straight win. James Palmer and Glynn Watson struggled, scoring 25 combined points but on 29 shots. Nebraska shot just 33 percent from the floor, 6 for 22 from 3-point range, and got just four points from the bench. But the Huskers packed in the lane and dared the Wildcats to beat them from deep.
They couldn’t. The Wildcats missed nine of their final 11 shots of the first half, and went scoreless for more than five minutes in the second. During both stretches, Nebraska built comfortable leads.
“Those are crushers,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “One of those Big Ten, grind-it-out games.”
Through 30 minutes, Nebraska led just 40-39. But a Palmer dunk sparked a 13-2 run over the next five minutes to close out the win. A 3-pointer from Watson with 3:52 left gave NU a 53-41 lead. Nebraska dropped into a 1-3-1 zone and Northwestern turned the ball over six times in those five minutes.
Collins felt more than OK with the Wildcats’ defense. Roby scored 19, he noted, but on 19 shots.
“Our defense wasn’t the reason we lost,” Collins said. “We really struggled to score the ball.”
Nebraska (15-11, 5-10) is slowly coming around to the idea of winning games with defense, Miles said. Roby and Tanner Borchardt held Dererk Pardon to 13 points and 12 rebounds. Law scored 15 but on 15 shots. Northwestern (12-13, 3-11) was just 5 for 25 from 3-point range.
“I thought we had a very solid defensive effort,” Miles said. “And when I say ‘solid,’ that’s not a dismissive like, ‘Oh, we were solid.’ I mean it like, ‘We were rock solid.’ I think that’s good.”
But without Roby’s effort, Nebraska’s flickering postseason hopes would’ve blown out. At halftime, Roby said, he was bull-rushed by teammates telling him to be more aggressive. Fans, even, were yelling at Roby to take open shots rather than passing them up.
He finally listened. In part, he said, because when Isaac Copeland went down, the Huskers didn’t realize how much more aggressively they needed to play as a group. He wanted to try to set a new tone. A tone that could open up the possibility of a late-season run.
“I just thought he was terrific tonight,” Miles said. “That’s that Isaiah Roby I think we all saw with that high ceiling.”