With No. 22 Indiana up next, inability to clean glass is a glaring Husker hindrance

Nebraska's Isaiah Roby grabs a rebound on Thursday night in a narrow win over Penn State. Roby is leading the Huskers in rebounding at 6.6 a game.

LINCOLN — Penn State forward Lamar Stevens missed a jumper but collected his miss over Isaiah Roby for the first offensive rebound of the possession.

He put up a layup right under the rim, but it bounced off. Penn State’s Myreon Jones skied above the Nebraska defense and came down with a board, then threw up a floater immediately. That, too, bounced off the rim but into the hands of Penn State’s Mike Watkins, who passed the ball back out to run a new set with a fresh shot clock.

And the boos started to pepper through the Pinnacle Bank Arena crowd on Thursday. Because Penn State, the fifth-best rebounding team in the Big Ten, was working the Huskers all over the glass.

It’s been a theme for Nebraska the past three conference games — the inability to keep teams off the offensive glass. And it has seriously hurt the Huskers.

In NU’s last three games against Maryland, Iowa and Penn State, the Huskers have been outrebounded 124-91. Opponents have rebounded 43 percent of their missed shots, 47 offensive rebounds in total. They turned the boards into 49 second-chance points.

And what hurts the most? The scoring margin in Nebraska’s last three games is just one point in the opponent’s favor. Clean up the second-chance points, and Nebraska’s 2-3 Big Ten record likely is better.

“We just gotta keep working on that,” senior guard Glynn Watson said. “That’s one thing Coach (Tim) Miles has been on us about in film and in practice, things like that. We gotta clean that up.”

Penn State did not enter the game a high-volume offensive rebounding team, either. The Nittany Lions have gone over 15 three times this year, though, against Bradley, Duquesne and now Nebraska.

The issue, Tanner Borchardt said recently, isn’t that Nebraska is undersized. That’s an excuse, and rebounding is about effort, he said. But through 16 games, Nebraska is 13th out of 14 teams in the Big Ten in rebounding margin.

“I think mainly it’s positioning and just seeing the shot,” Roby said. “A lot of times, we’ll run in too far and and it’ll be a long shot, so those are things we just gotta see.”

Roby leads the team with 6.6 rebounds per game, which is about his average from last season, followed by Isaac Copeland with 5.3, down one rebound a game. Where Nebraska really struggles is rebounding by its guards.

James Palmer is averaging a half-rebound less than last season. The departed Evan Taylor snagged 3.4 boards per game last year, and Thomas Allen is at just 2.6 for this year. Last year’s big man off the bench, Jordy Tshimanga, pulled in 4.6 rebounds a game, but neither Tanner Borchardt nor Brady Heiman has an average that high this year.

Plus, Nebraska is hardly going to its bench this season for help. Neither Borchardt nor Heiman saw the floor in the second half against Penn State. And though guards Nana Akenten and Amir Harris have proven to be decent rebounders, both have been ill and haven’t played much recently. Nebraska is 343rd in bench minutes, and that doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon.

Perhaps the good news for Nebraska is that No. 22 Indiana, not a stellar rebounding team, is the next opponent. The Hoosiers are averaging 36.3 rebounds a game, good for eighth in the conference.

But No. 6 Michigan State is the Big Ten’s best rebounding team, and the Huskers host the Spartans next Thursday. After that is Rutgers, third in the league with 40.1 rebounds per game.

“Those are things that are going to correct and we’ll get to,” Miles said. “When you look at the big picture, you just have to pin your ears back and try and go get Indiana and Michigan State.”

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Chris Heady covers Husker football and is the Nebraska men's basketball beat writer. He started at The World-Herald in 2017. Follow him on Twitter @heady_chris. Email: chris.heady@owh.com.

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