For about 10 minutes, it looked as if Nebraska had drawn up the perfect game plan to pull off one of the biggest upsets in all of college basketball this season. Then, the talent and poise of top-ranked Indiana eventually took over and never looked back.
Despite a solid start, the Huskers couldn't keep pace with the nation's No. 1 team on the road, as the Hoosiers ended up cruising to a 76-47 victory Wednesday night in Bloomington, Ind.
Early foul trouble for NU and a second-half surge by Indiana helped turn a close game into a blowout, as the Hoosiers took a nine-point halftime lead and ended up leading by as much as 29 when all was said and done.
"I thought we had it at a pretty good pace for a long time until their second half 3-point shooting really took a toll on us," head coach Tim Miles said during his post-game radio show on the Husker Sports Network. "Obviously that's what separated the game. You're sitting there, and you're like, 'OK, we're down nine or 11.' And I look up and it's 21 or whatever. It doesn't take much for them to get going in transition and hurt you."
Things went about as well as Nebraska (12-13 overall, 3-9 Big Ten) could have hoped for through the first 10 minutes, as the Huskers were able to control the pace of the game and get a enough offense going to take a 14-11 lead after a pair of free throws by freshman Shavon Shields with 9:53 left in the half.
It certainly didn't hurt NU that Indiana, which came in as the nation's second-best scoring offense at 82.3 points per game, went a full 10 minutes without a field goal during that stretch. Luckily for the Hoosiers (22-3, 10-2), the free-throw line would be their savior in the first half, as they were able to keep pace despite their cold shooting by going 12-of-16 at the charity stripe.
Indiana finally got a shot through the hoop on a lay-up by guard Will Sheehey with 8:45 to go in the half, and that would spark a quick 10-0 run that shifted the course of the game. Two straight drive and scores by senior guard Dylan Talley got Nebraska back to 21-18 with 4:22 remaining, but the Hoosiers would close out the rest of the half with six unanswered free throws to go into halftime up 27-18.
The Hoosiers' 27 points were the lowest they had scored in a half all season, but the Huskers were unable to take advantage primarily because of 10 first half turnovers and 10 fouls committed, including three each by senior big men Brandon Ubel and Andre Almeida.
"It was like trying to be the captain of the Titanic," Miles said of NU's early foul trouble. "I mean, it was just every important player for us had two fouls, and then three. That really hurt us."
It didn't take more than a few minutes into the second half for Indiana to break the game open for good. The Hoosiers opened up the half with a big block by Zeller on NU's first possession, followed by a quick lay-up by Victor Oladipo, a 3-pointer by Jordan Hulls and a dunk by Christian Watford.
"When we managed the game earlier, it was at our pace, but starting the second half, we run a little action for Dylan - who had been playing pretty good - they block it and run out and they score," Miles said. "We come down next possession, something else goes wrong, they come down and hit a 3. It's like, we didn't even get to the 17-minute mark and I'm calling a timeout… You know you're in trouble when they're on the attack like that."
The rest was downhill from there for the Huskers, as IU continued to apply pressure on both ends of the floor and eventually led 58-32 after a steal and breakaway dunk by sophomore center Cody Zeller with 7:40 remaining.
After their worst scoring half of the season in the first half, the Hoosiers came back and put up 49 points in the second 20 minutes. The Hoosier's 76 points were the second-most NU has allowed this season.
Talley ended the night with a team-high 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting, but that was about the only highlight for a Nebraska team that ended up being outscored by 20 in the second half and had just three assists to 15 turnovers on the night. Zeller led Indiana with 16 points, while Oladipo and Watford both chipped in 13.
"They're as good of a team as I've seen in a long, long time," Miles said of Indiana. "They're very good. They're very good. I can see why people are talking about Final Four and just all the things that go with that."
As rough as Wednesday night's loss was, things won't get any easier for the Huskers this week, as next up is No. 8 Michigan State at home on Saturday. The Spartans will come in tied with Indiana at the top of the Big Ten standings, and are playing arguably as well as anyone in the country at the moment.
"It doesn't get easier, does it?" Miles said. "Sense of timing is not great for joining the Big Ten, but at the same time, there's nothing like it. This is what we signed up for, and I'm excited to get on the floor against Michigan State and get this taste out of our mouth and find a way to beat one of these ranked teams. That's what we want to do."