LINCOLN — For openers, a breather. And a little history.
Husker men’s hoops skated through opening night, jumping on Mississippi Valley State early. It was 55-13 at the half. And then it was time to work on just about anything coach Tim Miles needed, including a bench that will be called upon early and often this season.
They could name their score, and they settled on 106-37.
It was the first time Nebraska basketball had scored 100 points in the opener since the 1992-93 Huskers beat Colgate 108-76.
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How’s that for opening night?
It beats the other kind of history.
Incarnate Word. Samford. Gardner-Webb. UCF.
Sorry to ruin the moment.
Tim Miles’ teams have a history of hiccups against less-than-illustrious nonconference opponents. They take their eye off the ball. The next thing you know, the résumé has an ink blotch.
Fortunately, there aren’t many chances for that this season.
After playing Southeastern Louisiana on Sunday, Husker Hoops plays Seton Hall, and then it’s off to Kansas City for Missouri State and then USC or Texas Tech.
Then it’s Western Illinois, a feisty Summit League team that pushed Creighton on Tuesday night. Then it’s at Clemson (a Sweet 16 team last season), Illinois, at Minnesota, Creighton, Oklahoma State and back for Cal-State Fullerton.
Seton Hall, Texas Tech, Creighton, Clemson and Fullerton were NCAA tourney teams a season ago.
It’s a pretty salty nonconference schedule. But the more fiber the better for a Nebraska team that fell short of the NCAA tourney last season. One of the reasons: four nonconference regular-season losses, including UCF.
And maybe it will keep the Huskers’ heads in the game.
Miles’ two best teams were not early morning (season) teams. They woke up in midseason, during conference play, and ran off enough wins to make one NCAA tourney and push for another last season.
Now Miles has his best collection of talent and experience. It’s poised to do great things, but the Huskers must keep their eye on the ball early. That shouldn’t be a problem with this obstacle course.
That’s why you wanted to see a veteran team with big expectations come out of the chute with purpose. Nebraska did that.
If you were looking for statements, James Palmer delivered one early. Palmer is on all the national watch lists, and on Tuesday, he added his name to the John Wooden Award list. He came back for a senior year, and you figure he’s full of incentive, but he’s so laid-back it’s sometimes hard to know.
Early Tuesday night, Palmer took a pass, took a look at Valley State’s soft zone, aimed and hit a 3-pointer to start Nebraska’s scoring. Pretty smooth start. Pretty confident.
Soon they were off to the races, with the Palmer, Glynn Watson, Isaiah Roby and Isaac Copeland foursome doing most of the damage. This is their team, their season, and with sophomore guard Thomas Allen filling out the starting five, it’s a front-line group that has a lot of chemistry together and confidence.
This Nebraska team is going to shoot 3s, and players didn’t wait long to set that tone. The Huskers put up 37 3s on Tuesday night, making 15. Watson, the playmaker, dropped in five, as if to remind that he can launch it.
But the headliner was sophomore wing Nana Akenten, who hit five 3-pointers in his full-fledged debut as someone Miles needs to count on. Akenten played in seven games last season, backing up Anton Gill and Evan Taylor. He’ll be an extra weapon off the bench and probably a headache for opponents.
The other fresh face belonged to Brady Heiman, the 6-foot-11 freshman from Platteview High who had 13 rebounds to go with nine points. Because Copeland often seems more comfortable on the perimeter, Miles might need Heiman to grow up fast as an inside contributor.
It was game one against an overmatched MVSU. All numbers should be weighed accordingly.
But what mattered in this one wasn’t the numbers or the spread. It was the urgency. It was the look.
“Urgency was something I was a little concerned about, but I thought the guys came out and were sharp and did a nice job,” Miles said. “No matter when they went in, nobody did anything too crazy. When they don’t lose discipline, that’s always a good thing.
“Tonight I felt good about how we came out and kept our focus and stayed on them the whole game.”
They are off to a historic start, with a schedule ahead that should keep them focused on making the right kind of history.