I will not be taking questions from the media tonight.
I said it was a long shot, Nebraska and Creighton going on a run, making a charge to the NCAA tournament with plenty of games left to pad a résumé. I’ve seen a lot of improbable things happen in college hoops. It’s an emotional game. Crazy things happen.
Not this time. Not on Wednesday. Creighton really let a big one get away at Villanova. The Bluejays aren’t done yet. If CU can get to nine Big East wins and make one of them at Marquette, anything is possible. I’m not giving up on the Jays.
Nebraska? As they say, start the bus.
The Huskers’ entire season was on the line against Maryland at Pinnacle Bank Arena. It was as obvious as the look on Tim Miles’ face after getting thumped 60-45, as painfully clear as his voice cracking. Even Maryland coach Mark Turgeon looked like he was in pain while shaking Miles’ hand afterward. You could see Turgeon was consoling Miles, probably telling him how sorry he was that things have gone so south for NU, telling him to hang in there.
It looked like it was really cutting up Turgeon, a coach’s coach, because he knows where this Nebraska season is headed. And he knows that’s not good for Miles.
Miles needs a miracle now, and I didn’t see one out there on the Pinnacle hardcourt. What we saw was a Nebraska team, playing hard, and yet playing lost. Isaiah Roby got aggressive. But any semblance of offense was by accident. It’s too bad. When these guys were going earlier in the year, not that very long ago, they played with such a flow. That seems like years ago now. Nebraska shot just 21 percent from the floor at home, had a season-low 20 points in the first half. This was Miles’ best team, a team loaded with enough offensive options that even after losing a big puzzle piece like Isaac Copeland, this shouldn’t happen. That’s just mind-boggling.
They say college basketball is a fragile game, but, man, how can it be this fragile?
Don’t ask Miles. He doesn’t know. You feel for the coach, getting emotional after the game. He can’t shoot the ball, but as they say, he recruits the guys who do. This is Miles’ team, including the lack of depth and size. Somebody posted on Twitter during the game that Miles has lost the team. But you wonder if he really had them. This is an older team that doesn’t have answers, and that makes the fall all the more mystifying. Afterward, Miles said he “hoped and prayed this was rock bottom.” That’s a coach who knows there’s still a rock bottom out there.
There was a time during the game when Maryland big body Bruno Fernando turned and knocked NU’s Tanner Borchardt to the floor and then stepped over Borchardt to score. There was no call, and worse, still no call when Fernando appeared to step on Borchardt intentionally rather than step over him. It brought back images of Duke’s Christian Laettner back in the day. It bought Miles off the bench to defend his guy. Miles got a technical, and usually that would fire up the team. Not this time, not this team.
Nebraska has eight games left in the regular season, several against teams that could help their résumé, but that’s more the bad news than the good. There’s no sense even going there now, dream scenarios. That’s how jarring the images were from this one.
Nebraska is a runaway train in reverse, a kind of train wreck in progress. Now we’ll spend the last five weeks watching for it, debating coaching candidates. This greatest season, once upon a time, now turned into a slow, painful march toward an unthinkable ending we all know too well.
What happened to that team that beat Creighton?
The Bluejays had their own version of adversity going to play at the Big East’s flagship, Villanova. They would be without freshman point guard Marcus Zegarowski, and then, at game time, it was announced that leading scorer Ty-Shon Alexander was out with an injury suffered in practice the day before.
Creighton had an unbelievable effort. The Jays shrugged off their injury woes and attacked the evening’s chore. The Jays hung with ’Nova while playing ’Nova’s preferred slower, grind-it-out style. The Jays made play after play. Finally, down one late, they got a break. With the shot clock winding down with 37 seconds left, senior Kaleb Joseph went up for a desperate 3 and leaned into a Wildcat defender and appeared to initiate contact. But the ’Nova player was given the foul and Joseph had three foul shots. He could only make one.
Martin Krampelj blocked Villanova’s last shot attempt and it went into overtime.
Not a good idea. The defending national champs had life, and didn’t miss. CU would be lamenting its missed chances, the missed free throws, and failing to find Krampelj inside for the last 10 minutes of the first half. This would have been a win that vaulted Creighton into NCAA tournament conversations. If the Jays can find this kind of effort the rest of the way, it’s not over.
But you feel like the Jays let a golden opportunity slip away. Same with the first game with Marquette. Oh, how Creighton’s season would look right now if they had those two wins. Or one.