CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Glynn Watson had two guys on him, but he needed to score. He hadn’t yet. And this, as the senior guard has said, is his team.
So Watson drove baseline, threw his arm around Giorgi Bezhanishvili to seal him off. He was caught. Offensive foul.
James Palmer ran over to help Watson up off the floor, but he declined, standing up quickly. With his head down, Watson walked directly to the bench with his third foul.
Frustration and failure was the story of Nebraska’s 71-64 loss on Saturday at Illinois, the program’s fifth in a row and seventh in nine games.
The Illini are 7-15 on the year, but proved over 40 minutes they were the more complete team. Guard Kipper Nichols hadn’t scored in five games, but led the Illini with 18 points and six rebounds. Trent Frazier added 11 points and four rebounds.
James Palmer scored a team-high 22 points for the Huskers, and Tanner Borchardt had a career day, with 12 points and 18 rebounds. But Watson, Isaiah Roby and Thomas Allen shot a combined 31 percent, 11 for 35. And Illinois’ bench outscored Nebraska’s 36-4.
Nebraska shot 36 percent from the floor and 3 for 23 from 3-point range. The Huskers were 0 for 11 from 3-point territory in the second half. Just 11 for 21 from the free throw line.
“We did enough to play winning basketball tonight,” NU coach Tim Miles said on his postgame radio show. “Our kids are working their tails off. We gotta stay positive and understand that you can’t, you just have to keep competing. You can’t worry about outcome.”
Illinois sprung out to a 7-0 lead. Nebraska countered with a 10-0 run. The Huskers led 18-13 at one point after a dunk from freshman Amir Harris. But Illinois zoned up Nebraska, took away Palmer drives and outscored NU 23-7 over the next nine minutes and took a 38-29 lead into halftime.
Nebraska didn’t do anything to help its case in the opening minutes of the second half. NU missed its first four shots, turned it over three times and didn’t score a field goal until the 15:50 mark. Watson picked up his fourth foul on a technical. Nebraska fell behind 51-37 on an Illini 3-pointer at the shot clock buzzer.
Miles said recently the Huskers were playing with low confidence, and they played like it. Watson didn’t hit a field goal until the second half. Nana Akenten played just six minutes and was pulled after missing two shots and getting one rebound. Roby passed up mismatches down low. Often, Illinois made Nebraska’s offense look disjointed. The Illini turned Nebraska over just 10 times, but forced countless bad, long shots at the end of the shot clock, which led to points on the other end.
Borchardt was an outlier on Saturday. Eleven of his career high 18 rebounds were on offense, and he almost single-handedly kept Nebraska in the game with rebounds and outlet passes into transition.
“You look at 12 points and 18 rebounds, you can’t ask for much more out of him,” Miles said. “And it’s just effort, determination and mentality. That’s what I love about him. He’s not worried about anything but trying to help the team win.”
A late 7-0 run cut the Illinois lead to nine. But Nebraska missed seven of its last eight shots, including its last four. Illinois missed free throws late, but Nebraska missed almost everything.
With the loss Nebraska is tied for 13th in the Big Ten, in front of only Penn State, which is winless in conference play.
“We need something positive to happen,” Miles said. “Your spirit gets down when you get beat up a little bit. So I see great effort, but again, the general enthusiasm and spirit of a team suffers when you go through losing streaks.”
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March 24, 2012: Tim Miles is introduced as Nebraska's men's basketball coach after five seasons at Colorado State, where he led the Rams to the NCAA tournament in his final season.
Nov. 11, 2012: Tim Miles coaches his first game for the Huskers and picks up his first win, defeating Southern 66-55.
Nov. 27, 2012: Tim Miles becomes the first Nebraska coach in 93 years to win his road debut after the Huskers defeat Wake Forest.
March 6, 2013: Tim Miles coaches the Huskers to a victory in the final men's basketball game played in the Devaney Center, a two-point win over Minnesota.
March 14, 2013: Nebraska earns its first-ever Big Ten tournament victory with a 57-55 win over Purdue.
March 15, 2013: Tim Miles' first season as Nebraska's head coach comes to an end with a loss to No. 10 Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament. The Huskers finished that season with a 15-18 overall record.
Jan. 20, 2014: Tim Miles wins his first game at Nebraska against a ranked opponent, beating No. 17 Ohio State, 68-62. Miles went winless in his first 12 games against ranked teams.
Feb. 16, 2014: It had been 17 years since Nebraska last beat a top-10 team on the road, but Tim Miles changed that with a 60-51 victory over No. 9 Michigan State.
March 9, 2014: Nebraska upsets No. 9 Wisconsin in front of a raucous crowd on what Tim Miles dubbed "no-sit Sunday." That win completed a 15-1 home record in Pinnacle Bank Arena's first season and capped a stretch of eight wins in NU's final games to propel the Huskers into the NCAA tournament.
March 10, 2014: After leading the Huskers to a fourth-place finish in the Big Ten standings, Tim Miles is named the conference's coach of the year.
March 21, 2014: Nebraska reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in 16 years, but Tim Miles would get ejected in the second half as Baylor eliminated the Huskers with a 14-point victory.
April 4, 2014: Tim Miles wins the Jim Phelan Award as national coach of the year after leading Nebraska to a winning record overall and in conference, the first time that happened since the 1998-99 season.
Nov. 16, 2014: Nebraska opens the 2014-15 season ranked No. 21 in the country, the first time the Huskers cracked the Top 25 in 20 years. But NU would drop out of the rankings after losing the fourth game of the season.
Feb. 22, 2015: Tim Miles locks his team out of the locker room after a 74-46 home loss to Iowa.
March 11, 2015: Tim Miles completes a disappointing third season at Nebraska with a loss to Penn State in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament. NU finished the year with a 13-18 overall record and on a nine-game losing streak.
Jan. 20, 2016: Tim Miles proves he has a knack for beating Michigan State, upsetting the No. 11-ranked Spartans, 72-71, on the road.
March 11, 2016: Year four under Tim Miles ends with another losing record, though the Huskers did win two games to reach the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament before falling to No. 18 Maryland.
Aug. 4, 2016: Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst tells The World-Herald that he decided not to offer Tim Miles a one-year extension on his contract that would've kept the length at an industry-standard five years.
Feb. 22, 2017: Amidst growing uncertainty about his future at Nebraska, Tim Miles says during a press conference: “I want to be forceful that I want to be the coach here. I believe Shawn (Eichorst) wants me to be the coach here. I believe Marc (Boehm) does.”
March 5, 2017: Nebraska and Tim Miles finish the 2016-17 regular season with a 93-57 loss to Michigan, the most lopsided home defeat in program history.
March 8, 2017: Nebraska's fifth season under Tim Miles ends with an overtime loss to Penn State in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament. The Huskers finish 12-19 overall, their third consecutive year with a losing record, but Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst tweeted immediately after the game that Miles would return for another season.
Sept.-Oct. 2017: Tim Miles gets a new boss after Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst was fired on Sept. 21. “This doesn’t affect us on the court," Miles said at the time. "We have in place what we have, and we’re in a position to elevate our program.” Bill Moos was hired about a month later, someone Miles expected could "help us all get better."
Oct. 19, 2017: Expectations were low for Tim Miles and the Huskers in 2017 as they were picked to finish 13th in the Big Ten preseason media poll. "I think we’re going to outperform that," Miles said. "I would expect we do."
Dec. 16, 2017: Nebraska nearly had one of its biggest upset of the Tim Miles era when it led No. 13 Kansas with under a minute to play. Then a 3-pointer by the Jayhawks with 23 seconds left sealed the win, leaving the Huskers 7-5. “They make one more play than we do," Miles said. "That hurts.”
Feb. 25, 2018: Nebraska caught fire in the Big Ten portion of the 2017-18 season. The Huskers capped it off with a win over Penn State to finish the regular season 22-9 with a school-record 13 conference wins.
March 2, 2018: Despite the strong regular season, Nebraska was still on the NCAA tournament bubble entering the Big Ten tournament. A 19-point loss to Michigan in the opening game sunk the Huskers' postseason hopes, and two days later, they were left out of March Madness.
March 14, 2018: The disappointment from not making the NCAA tournament carried into the NIT, as Nebraska's record-breaking season ended with a first-round loss at Mississippi State.
April 17, 2018: Despite the disappointing end to the season, there was still enough optimism surrounding Tim Miles' program that A.D. Bill Moos granted him a one-year contract extension — though there were some questioning why it was only one year. "I'm excited about our progress, so the length isn't a big deal to me," Miles said. "I'm glad Bill — and the upper administration — saw fit to extend me."
May 30, 2018: Isaac Copeland and James Palmer (pictured, left) announce they'll return to Nebraska for their senior season after considering the NBA. That meant Tim Miles returned his four stars — Copeland, Palmer, Isaiah Roby (pictured, right) and Glynn Watson — sending expectations for the 2018-19 season through the roof.
October 2018: There was a lot of hype surrounding Tim Miles' Huskers near the start of the season. They were picked to finish fourth in a strong Big Ten and were ranked in the preseason coaches poll. "We have four guys I think anybody in the league would take," Miles said.
Dec. 8, 2018: Tim Miles finally got the blue and white monkey off his back after beating Creighton by 19 points. It Miles' first win over his in-state rival and ended Nebraska's seven-game losing streak against the Jays. "I just wanted to get that win for my coach," said Glynn Watson, pictured. "I've been here with him through the thick and thin."
Jan. 26, 2019: Nebraska's once-promising season seemingly started to unravel after a 10-point loss at home to Ohio State. It was the Huskers' third straight defeat and the fifth in seven games. It dropped them to 3-6 in the Big Ten, more losses than they had in conference all of the previous season. And to make it worse, starter Isaac Copeland suffered a season-ending torn ACL during the game.
Feb. 9, 2019: The Huskers' struggles continued without Isaac Copeland and Tim Miles spoke about hitting "rock bottom" in a loss to Maryland a few days later. But the losing eventually hit seven after an 81-62 loss at Purdue on this day.
Feb. 13, 2019: After 30 days, seven losses and a litany of disappointment, Nebraska broke its seven-game losing streak with a 62-61 win over Minnesota. “This is good, finally,” Tim Miles said. “There’s a collective sigh of relief.”
March 5, 2019: The good vibes from back-to-back wins dissipated after the losses returned. The Huskers lost four straight games — including three to ranked opponents — culminating in a 91-76 defeat at Michigan State.
March 10, 2019: A disappointing year ended with a bang when Nebraska overcame a 16-point deficit to defeat Iowa in overtime. “That’s a special one,” Tim Miles said. Despite the win, though, Nebraska still finished the regular season 16-15 overall and 6-14 in the Big Ten.
March 15, 2019: Tim Miles took a shorthanded team to the Big Ten tournament — just six active scholarship players — and went on a run. The 13th-seeded Huskers beat Rutgers in the opening game, then upset No. 5 seed Maryland to reach the quarterfinals. But the Huskers were eliminated after a 66-62 loss to No. 4 seed Wisconsin.
March 24, 2019: The 2018-19 season comes to an end in Fort Worth, Texas. After the Huskers won their first-round game of the NIT against Butler, they traveled to face TCU. Short-handed due to injury and Isaiah Roby's ejection, Nebraska fell 88-72 to finish the year 19-17.
March 26, 2019: Tim Miles is fired after seven seasons as Nebraska's basketball coach. He compiled a 116-114 record — the third-most wins in program history — but he never advanced past the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament and only reached the NCAA tournament once.