In what was supposed to be the final tune-up before officially kicking off the meat grinder portion of the schedule later this week, Nebraska found there were still plenty of issues needing to be fixed in Saturday night's 77-62 win over The Citadel.
A 20-6 run in the final minutes helped make the score look a little better than the game actually was, as the Huskers struggled all night long and even trailed by as many as eight points late in the first half against an inferior Bulldog squad. While head coach Tim Miles was glad to see his young team step up and get the job done when it had to, he said NU needed to get a whole lot better in a hurry before the competition ramps up in a big way this Saturday at Cincinnati and then on into the start of Big Ten Conference play.
Maybe the biggest concern Miles had following the game was the way Nebraska struggled to adjust to the variety of defensive looks The Citadel used throughout the night. By throwing a mixture of different zones and man-to-man defenses, the Bulldogs were able to fluster the Huskers' offense and hold them to shoot just 41.7 percent from the field in the first half and forced 13 total NU turnovers.
"We were sitting out there like the Bad News Bears," Miles said. "We've got two guys who run into each other, the ball falls out of their hands and (the Bulldogs) get a layup. Not once. Not twice. Like three times, you know? We said, 'Here's what has to happen in the second half.' And really we started out pretty good and then they came back again, because we had given them so much confidence. But I was happy that we were able to go out and finish the job. It wasn't a lost day. I think it was a meaningful day in terms of a learning experience."
The fact that true freshman point guard Tai Webster struggled once again certainly didn't help matters. After being held scoreless last time out against Arkansas State, Webster had just two points on only two shot attempts with one assist to three turnovers in 16 minutes of playing time. Webster wasn't the only NU guard who had an off night, though. Junior Deverell Biggs had only six points and zero assists with two turnovers, and sophomore Benny Parker didn't even attempt a shot in the game and had just one assist.
"That's where you wish you had a more experienced point guard," Miles said. "We just didn't get into (the offense) and get quality shots the way we needed to. We still make some bad decisions. We scored six of our first eight buckets inside I think, and then we run a little action and Terran (Petteway)'s got Walter (Pitchford) wide open underneath the basket for a dunk. He throws it the other way for a turnover. I think we still need to understand that there's a certain amount of discipline that you have to stick with to be successful, and that was prevalent to me the entire night."
Sophomore wing Terran Petteway, who led Nebraska with a game-high 27 points, said the offensive struggles against The Citadel's multiple defensive looks were similar to the problems the Huskers had a few weeks ago at Creighton. He said the Bulldogs, like the Bluejays did, were essentially sitting back and daring NU to shoot from the perimeter, and when those long attempts weren't falling - Nebraska was just 5-of-17 from beyond the arc - the offense had a difficult time creating quality looks.
The Huskers did a much better job of attacking the rim in the second half, as Miles preached to the team at halftime that it had to get the ball to the basket and force the issue offensively. In fact, after settling for 11 3-point shots in the first half, Nebraska came out in the second half and took its first 10 shots in the paint.
"(Miles) just told us to be aggressive with whatever they are trying to do to us, whether that be playing zone or trapping us," Petteway said. "He said keep playing aggressive and attacking the rim and that is what we did in the second half."
Of course, another huge game by Petteway helped the Huskers get away with an otherwise off night offensively. The 6-foot-6 native of Galveston, Texas, has established himself as Nebraska's most consistent scoring threat, as he currently leads the team and ranks sixth in the Big Ten with 16.8 points per game. The Citadel head coach Chuck Driesell even said that as much as his team's defense gave NU troubles on Saturday, the Bulldogs couldn't figure out how to stop Petteway when they had to the most.
"We don't have an answer for him, that is why we tried to play a little bit of man and a little bit of zone, a little bit of 1-3-1; hell we even threw in a little triangle and two out there for one possession," Driesell said. "He is a very talented player. We knew one guy couldn't stop him so we were trying to change things up and keep him off rhythm."