LINCOLN — Nebraska’s first offensive possession against Minnesota caught the Gophers off guard.
Glynn Watson, Thomas Allen and James Palmer danced above the 3-point line, in a three-man dribble weave, waiting for a Minnesota defender to slip up. One finally did, and Watson attacked, slashing down the right side of the lane and scooping in a score to take a 2-0 lead.
The action is something Tim Miles hadn’t run since the 2016-17 season, with Tai Webster. It was a staple from 2013 to 2015 with Terran Petteway.
The plan was to keep it in the closet this season. Miles didn’t like the set with his current team. But with Isaac Copeland out, it’s back.
“I was watching Purdue. I was like, ‘We’re not downhill at all,’ ” Miles said. “So we just put in a couple sets and I liked it right away.”
During Nebraska’s seven-game losing streak, defense wasn’t a huge issue, especially at home. Maryland scored just 60 on Nebraska, Wisconsin just 62. Ohio State and Michigan State both scored 70, but below their average.
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It was the offense — or lack thereof — that really bit NU. In the final four games of that losing streak, the Huskers averaged just 27 points per half and 55 a game.
But the losing streak is over, thanks in part to the reintroduction of old Miles plays. The move is a mark of transformation, which Nebraska needed after the Copeland injury and during this late-season slump, and a transformation that may not be complete, but has the program feeling like it’s moving in the right direction.
“When you put together a play package and all this, you assume the worst at times but you say, ‘OK, when it’s crunch time, these are the guys we’re gonna have on the floor, these are gonna be our most reliable actions,’” Miles said. “And then when you take a versatile player and an efficient player like Isaac out and put in somebody else, it’s not the same. Now everything just changes a little bit. I think we have a better understanding of what our most reliable things are and what we have to do to get there.”
Whether or not the Minnesota win was a fluke, or a sign of things to come with an productive offense, will be tested on Saturday by Northwestern.
Chris Collins’ team is 12-12 on the season and 3-10 in conference play. Northwestern is in the middle of a five-game losing streak, and, in some ways, mirrors Nebraska’s recent slump. Offensively, the Wildcats have been underwhelming, with one of the worst effective field-goal percentages in the country. But they do defend. Just one team has scored more than 70 points on them during the streak.
“I think Chris Collins has done a wonderful job there,” Miles said. “I think they’ve played well even though they haven’t won.”
Nebraska may get Nana Akenten back after the sophomore was held out against Minnesota due to an illness. Akenten warmed up before the game, but never checked in. Miles said Akenten practiced full go for the first time on Thursday and will be 100 percent for Saturday’s tip.
The word of the weekend is hope. Nebraska has it again. National pundits are already back on the hype train, projecting an NCAA tournament bid. Northwestern provides Nebraska its best chance for a win for the rest of the year. After that comes a road trip to Penn State, where No. 6 Michigan just lost, then a slugfest with No. 12 Purdue, at Michigan, at No. 11 Michigan State and a home game with Iowa.
There’s a path to the postseason, Miles said, that his team sees. He’s not ready to talk about it yet. But seeing his team dreaming again is a good sign.
“As a coach, you worry about them losing hope,” Miles said. “I think you saw a group (that said), ‘Yeah, I see a path of where we can still be a viable team and make the postseason.’ And I think that’s important. Because you don’t want to lose that.”
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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.