LINCOLN — After a few days of anger, a nine-point loss at Iowa and a somber plane ride home, Nebraska went back to the basics this week.
Getting back on defense and finding a man. Blocking out. Closing out. Guarding the screen and roll. Giving effort on the defensive end. Caring.
“Stuff you learn first day of practice, we’re doing that right now just to rebuild what we had a month or so ago,” Nebraska senior forward Tanner Borchardt said.
Because after the 11-2 start, it’s been those basic things that have led to Nebraska’s two-game skid — and why the Huskers find themselves near the bottom of the Big Ten standings at 1-3. After a shaky past few games on the road, Nebraska’s looking for its identity again during this grind of the Big Ten season and with Penn State coming to town Thursday.
The message ringing in the Huskers’ ears from coach Tim Miles entering Thursday is simple.
“Just play, do your job,” Miles said. “Do your job.”
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Penn State is one of the most winnable games left on Nebraska’s schedule. The Nittany Lions are 7-8 and winless in the Big Ten. They’re coming off losses to Michigan and Wisconsin, and Pat Chambers’ team also is in an interesting spot of the season.
Chambers, who has been Penn State coach for eight years, was suspended for the Wisconsin game after he shoved a player in a huddle during the Michigan game. Chambers apologized and will return to the court in Lincoln. And he’ll be bringing a fight, Miles said.
“Penn State doesn’t go away. They hang around, they’re physical,” Miles said.
Lamar Stevens is Penn State’s star. The 6-foot-8 junior is fourth in the conference in points per game (18.9) and averages 8.1 rebounds. He’s exactly what Nebraska has struggled with this year: forwards with the ability to score.
Minnesota’s Amir Coffey scored 32 on the Huskers. Maryland’s Bruno Fernando had 18 points and 17 rebounds.
“When I look at him, I just think that his strength and power are so impressive,” Miles said of Stevens.
In this league, Miles said, teams find your weaknesses and exploit them. That’s rebounding for Nebraska, and he expects Penn State to crash the glass hard. To try to counteract its flaws, Nebraska had a long film session Monday.
“A tough film session,” Borchardt described it.
During which Miles tried to point out how Nebraska’s bigs are overthinking in games. He brought up Isaiah Roby trying to draw a charge against Iowa’s Tyler Cook, which led to a dunk, instead of staying in there and playing the possession out.
“You just need to make the play,” Miles said he told Roby. “Just play. Do your job.”
Nebraska’s a more casual team, something that worried Miles even before the season. Because of that, he’s hoping going back to the basics and building the team up will spark a positive change. Last week, Roby said they were angry after the Maryland loss, but that didn’t turn into anything at Iowa.
“I’m not sure we were ever that angry,” Miles said.
Borchardt admitted the team was a little too casual at Iowa and Maryland, but he thinks the Huskers are turning the page in that regard. Because in this league, there are no slackers, he said. You can’t take a game off.
“We’re back home,” Borchardt said. “It’s time to get back to business.”
For Miles, he’s curious how his team will respond after two road losses. And after a few days of preaching fundamentals.
“I am very interested to see how hard we fight,” Miles said. “Because you have to fight Penn State to beat ’em.”