LINCOLN — Coach Tim Miles said there is a lesson to be learned now that Nebraska’s taken the full tour of the Big Ten’s top half, competing well with the best but so often staggering just enough to leave with a loss.
The five teams sitting above the rest in the league standings have combined for a 41-10 conference record — and the Huskers have suffered through varying methods of failure against each one.
They turned it over too much and couldn’t stop Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell on Jan. 2. They had an extended scoring drought against Iowa. There were costly mental lapses on defense, allowing Michigan’s sharpshooters to get hot. Purdue drained NU of its fight and toughness. And just three days ago, Nebraska squandered routine fast-break opportunities and fell to Maryland.
“Just good enough to lose.” That’s how Miles summed it up in a press conference Friday.
But reviewing those disappointing results doesn’t have to leave the Huskers in a demoralizing state, Miles said.
The players — freshmen make up half of the regular rotation — have experienced first-hand the kinds of mistakes that can’t be made. They still have that 72-71 win at now-No. 10 Michigan State to reference, proving their full potential.
They just need to keep preparing as if they’ll soon put it all together, Miles said.
“You stick with the idea of just getting better,” Miles said. “I think what you’ve learned, what I’m trying to emphasize is, you can compete with anybody. But it’s going to take a full 40 minutes. It’s going to take excellent execution. And it’s going to take an effort like you wouldn’t believe.”
Any lapses — for an undersized and young NU team in a league this talented — and you’re trudging off the court with your head down, frustrated with yet another loss.
NU’s dropped three straight games now. To three probable NCAA tournament teams, but still ...
“There’s no moral victory,” Miles said. “It’s just disappointing to lose.”
But now that the schedule lightens and Nebraska’s win probabilities increase, the Huskers (12-11, 4-6) have an opportunity to make the best of the near-misses.
Of those aforementioned five teams currently atop the Big Ten standings, NU plays just two of them (Indiana and Purdue) in its final eight league contests. The No. 18 Boilermakers have to come to Lincoln. There’s no rematch against Michigan State. The Huskers play Penn State (11-12, 2-8) twice and get Ohio State (14-10, 6-5) at home.
It could be a telling stretch run — starting with 13th-place Rutgers (6-17, 0-10) Saturday — for Nebraska’s developing roster and rebuilding program.
Junior Andrew White indicated that he and his teammates have to maintain a heightened level of urgency. It doesn’t matter if they’re playing a ranked opponent or a struggling team they previously blew out (NU waxed the Scarlet Knights 90-56 in January).
“There are definitely some winnable games,” White said. “But nothing is guaranteed in our conference. Just have to get back in the gym, fix some things, continue moving forward, and see where we can get toward the end of Big Ten play.”
Nebraska will spend portions of Saturday’s game honoring the 1990-91 Husker team, a squad that won 26 games, was ranked as high as No. 11 and reached the NCAA tournament.
The current NU team will wear throwback uniforms for the matchup against Rutgers. The first 500 students to arrive Saturday will get free T-shirts. Former players will be honored at halftime.
Nebraska’s branded the event as “Legends Weekend.” It’s the fourth straight year NU’s invited former players back to campus for an official gathering.
“Legends are important,” Miles said. “I think it’s important for the guys to get to know them and listen to these guys tell stories … what it means to them to have played at Nebraska. That’s always cool to hear.”
Miles said Friday that former Husker Beau Reid would speak to the team that night.
» The Scarlet Knights have lost 25 consecutive games against Big Ten opponents.
» Jonathan Laurent, a 6-foot-6 freshman, didn’t play in Rutgers’ first meeting with Nebraska one month ago. He’s expected to start Saturday.
» Nebraska is averaging just 9.6 turnovers per game in league action, which ranks second in the Big Ten.
» During conference play, Rutgers ranks last in scoring defense (89.4 points per game) and last in opponent field goal percentage (48.6 percent).
Contact the writer: