OMAHA, Neb. - From the opening tip, Sunday's 82-67 loss to Creighton was a worst-case scenario for Nebraska head coach Tim Miles's young and inexperienced squad.
Facing a loaded veteran Bluejay team in not only an intense in-state rivalry game but their first true road game of the season, emotion got the best of the Huskers early, and before they could regroup from the shock, they found themselves facing a near insurmountable deficit. Two-time national player of the year Doug McDermott was his usual dominant self with a game-high 33 points, the most by an NU opponent this season, while the Bluejays scored the game's first basket and led the rest of the way.
Though the Huskers were able to regroup a bit and actually out-scored Creighton in the second half, they played easily their worst 20 minutes of the season in the first half and trailed by as many as 32 points to dig themselves into a hole from which they simply couldn't climb out in front of a rowdy crowd of 17,530.
"It escalated in a hurry, huh?" Miles said. "I thought that defensively Creighton played the way we thought they might play, which is soften things up and switch some of our stuff to kind of take away driving lines, and I think we really let our offense affect our defensive energy level. That happens to some teams, and that certainly happened to us."
Creighton's Ethan Wragge drained a 3-pointer for the game's first basket a minute and half in, and that sparked a complete onslaught by the Bluejays for the rest of the first half. After quickly jumping out with eight straight points to open the game, Creighton eventually built up a massive 44-12 lead with a flurry of 3-pointers and a completely non-existent offense by Nebraska. The Huskers ended up missing 17 of their 20 shots to open the game, while CU started 13-of-20 from the field.
"I mean, when it's 40-10 or whatever it was, you're looking up there like, 'Wow,'" Miles said. "I mean, my son's a 9-year old and I see games like that on occasion, but you don't expect to see it in college basketball like that. You have to credit Creighton. They did an outstanding job. They were ready. I thought their ball movement was tremendous, they made shots. We really couldn't get to the rim until later in the game, and that was the smart way to play us."
The Huskers were eventually able to chip away at the deficit just a bit in the final minutes to get it down 25 points, but Creighton kept NU at bay and went into halftime with comfortable a 51-25 advantage. As a team, CU shot 7-of-16 from beyond the arc in the first half, including three treys from McDermott, who put up 17 points in the first 20 minutes. The Bluejays out-shot Nebraska from the field 54.8 percent (17-31) to 30.0 percent (9-30), as the Huskers were just 1-of-12 from 3-point range.
"We hadn't practiced well, and I look in the mirror on that," Miles said. "Did we complicate the game plan to a point where we couldn't free them up to just play? That's the first thing you think when guys aren't aggressive in practice. It's also a big academic week. What's the deal? You have to come ready to practice, and when you don't have good practices, you don't always feel this huge amount of confidence going into the game. We even met twice yesterday because we weren't pleased with practice earlier on Saturday. Obviously you can meet as much as you want and practice as much as you want, but if it's not high-quality stuff, you're not going to be prepared accordingly."
Sophomore forward Shavon Shields said Nebraska's preparation the past few days had little if anything to do with how poorly the Huskers came out on Sunday.
"That's just an excuse," Shields said. "This is a big game, and we needed to be ready to play. They came out and out-executed us and out-played us."
A turnover on Nebraska's first possession of the second half led to another basket by McDermott, and the woes of the first half just kept right on biting the Huskers the rest of the day. Shields and sophomore forward Terran Petteway helped stop the bleeding by scoring 32 of their combined 43 points after halftime, but it was all far too little and too late to do much to change the final score.
"You can look at that as we're down by 30, and maybe (the Bluejays) are not as amped up," Shields said. "I just think they out-played us in the first and second half, and we just had to play catch-up. That's how we got on the attack, which is kind of embarrassing, but, sure, we can say that was a positive."
Nebraska wouldn't come within 15 points the rest of the day, as the Bluejays never let off the gas pedal en route to their victory. Shields led the Huskers with 22 points, while Petteway had 21 before being ejected after double-flagrant 2 fouls to him and Creighton's Grant Gibbs after the two got into a scrum while going after a loose ball with 1:14 remaining in the game. Ethan Wragge had 16 points on four 3-pointers for the Bluejays, while Jahenns Manigat added 10.
Nebraska will have some time to regroup before it returns to action again next Saturday when Arkansas State comes to Lincoln for a 3 p.m. CT tip. Until then, the Huskers will try and figure out exactly what went wrong against the Bluejays and then move on from it for good.
"We've just got to put this one behind us and get going and get ready for Arkansas State," Shields said. "The week after that we have The Citadel and the week after that we have Cincinnati. We have to get three more wins before we get to Big Ten play if we want any hopes at postseason."
Miles said he was confident his team would respond the right way.
"I think we'll bounce back," Miles said. "I believe in these guys. Creighton kicked our tails. That's the beginning and the end."
Around the rim
***Miles said he hadn't gotten a chance to talk with Petteway about the scuffle with Gibbs that left to both players receiving technicals and ejections.
"They just wrestled around, and it turned out to be an F2 flagrant foul, which I think is like the equivalent of swinging an elbow on a kid where you get ejected but it's not a fight," Miles said. "Just proved excessive and unnecessary is what (the referees) told us on both parts, so both guys were ejected. It doesn't really impact them in the future. Terran, I mean the kid's tore up in the locker room and the first thing he does is apologize to his teammates for his conduct, because it's really important to him to be a Husker and represent the right way, and that was unfortunate. I'm not into who started it. I don't know what happened."
***While Petteway did not do interviews after the game, Gibbs gave his take on what happened on the play.
"Just diving for the ball and got tangled up," Gibbs said. "It happens. It's basketball."
***True freshman guard Nathan Hawkins made his collegiate debut on Sunday when he checked into the game at the 8:05 mark in the first half. Hawkins ended the day with zero points on 0-of-2 shooting and two missed free throws, two rebounds, an assist and two fouls in 11 minutes of action.
"Nate's a big guard," Miles said. "He's a knows-how-to-play guy. At that point, Ray (Gallegos) wasn't having much impact on the game. They were denying him, and it just seemed like every time we tried to run something for them they got it bottled up. So I thought 'let's put someone they've never heard of in.' I think Nate's a smart player. He's got a lot to learn and a lot to know, but he's going to grow and develop into a pretty good player. I just wanted to get him in the game."
***Freshman point guard Tai Webster tied his season high in assists for the fourth straight game with five assists.