Most fans expected there to be quite a learning curve for Nebraska as it transitions to new head coach Tim Miles, and Wednesday night's exhibition opener was definitely a rough start out of the gate at times.
The Huskers walked away with a comfortable 68-40 win over Midland (Neb.) University, but it wasn't until a second-half scoring spurt that they were finally able to pull away from their NAIA opponents.
"I didn't know what to expect, and that's kind of the way we played too," Miles said. "I thought we got off OK, struggled scoring, and then when we got a little bit of a lead, subbed some guys in, that kind of screwed everything up. Then we got in foul trouble, that screwed some stuff up. I wanted to give everyone an opportunity to compete and play, and I think we did, even in meaningful times. I thought everyone pretty much contributed too."
Nebraska (1-0) definitely had its share of kinks to work out during the early goings.
The Huskers never led by more than five points through the first 12 minutes of the game, and at one point went more than seven full minutes with making a field goal. In fact, they actually trailed 15-14 with 5:27 to go after a 3-pointer by Omaha native Dylan Travis.
"I think nerves might be an issue," Miles said. "I think earning confidence is another issue. You're thinking, 'OK, we can do this,' and then all of a sudden it's 13-12 or whatever, and you're like, 'Holy cow,' and then you're jock strap tightens up. They don't wear jock straps anymore, do they? I guess that's really an irrelevant point."
It wasn't until a 3 by David Rivers sparked a 12-2 run to close the half that NU was finally able to get some separation from the Warriors (0-2) and take a 30-18 lead into halftime.
Nebraska shot just 32.1 percent from the field in the first half, committed eight turnovers and only out-rebounded Midland - who's tallest player is only 6-foot-7 - by a 23-20 margin. Rivers scored seven of his nine points to lead NU in the half.
Midland cut the lead back down to 38-31on a 3-pointer by Kiefer Musiel with just under 15 minutes to go, but that would be as close as the Warriors would get. The Huskers finally turned it on and put the game out of reach with a 14-2 run that put them back up by a commanding 55-33 after a 3 by guard Trevor Menke 8:17 left.
"I hoped we'd play better offensively," Miles said. "I'd hoped we'd run our stuff with a little more crispness on offense. I thought we had practiced better, but you're in a controlled environment in practice, and so games are a little more chaotic."
Junior college transfer point guard Deverell Biggs, who saw his first action as a Husker in the win, played a big role in Nebraska's second half run, as he helped account for eight straight points with a jumper, a steal and two assists to senior Andre Almeida.
Unfortunately for Husker fans, Wednesday night would be the last they will see from Biggs until next year, as he plans to redshirt the 2012-13 season. He ended the night with four points, three assists and two steals.
"I just congratulated him on a great season when he came off the bench," Miles said. "I think he was probably a little nervous that this was his one crack, and he came in the first half and had two turnovers… I thought the second half, if we can get him in space and get him a screener, he's really good."
Senior guard Dylan Talley scored a team-high 10 points and hauled in seven rebound, while Almeida finished with nine points, eight rebounds and two blocks. Senior forward Brandon Ubel, senior guard Ray Gallegos and freshman center Sergej Vucetic all chipped in eight points.
The Huskers will officially start the regular season on Sunday when they play host to Southern on Sunday, with tip-off set for 6 p.m. CT.
"The more games we play I think the flow of our offense and defense will get better playing together," Rivers said. "It's just everything's so new right now. We know what to do, but we're thinking too much and not just flowing with it."
Around the rim
***Maybe the most entertaining moment of the night came during the final seconds with the game well in hand, as fans booed Miles for calling off the dogs and not trying to score. The fans were frustrated because if the Huskers would have scored 70 points, they would have earned a free Runza with their ticket stub. As luck would have it, NU only ended up with 68 points.
"You're always grateful to win," Miles said, "but like I told the guys in the locker room, it's my first day on the job and you guys get me booed out of the gym here for not getting Runzas for everybody."
***Miles said Nebraska's rebounding was something the team had to address moving forward. The Huskers only out-rebounded Midland 47-38 and gave up 12 offensive rebounds.
"We didn't clean up and rebound," Miles said. "I don't know if we had much of a rebounding advantage, but 12 offensive rebounds (by Midland) is not very good, and I think eight of those were in the first half. I was not very happy with that. When you don't finish possessions, you give the other team hope.
***Obviously the lack of consistent scoring was another concern for Miles. He said NU had to get guys like Talley and Ubel more involved in the offense.
"We've just got to figure out where our scoring is coming from," he said. "I've got to figure out how to get Brandon going. I'd like to free play, but we're going to need way more direction than that. There's some things that I like to run that are going to be iffy for a while. We need to get Dylan some clearer looks. We need to get Brandon some good looks."
***Point guard Benny Parker became the first Husker true freshman to open the season in the starting lineup since 2009. He played a team-high 25 minutes and finished with four points, four steals, two assists and just one turnover.
"I thought Benny did a solid job," Miles said. "I don't recall anything egregious, but I thought he's a spark for us. He's definitely a spark for us. I think you can feel that when he's in the game."
***Miles said Nebraska had to be much more efficient offensively than it was Wednesday night. The Huskers missed 37 shots and turned the ball over 14 times in the win.
"We've got to score on a regular basis," Miles said. "We had 71 possessions tonight and we had 68 points. You want to score more than a point a possession. If you have 71 possessions, if you're no good you should have about 75 points. So we're way below where we need to be."
***Miles said he expects to use much more guard-heavy lineups through the early portion of this season to help improve the control and pace of the offense.
"We're going to have to play plenty of two-guard offense," Miles said. "We're going to have to play with multiple handlers. I don't think there's any question that when we see a variety of defenses that we're going to need a lot of different people to make good decisions for us."
***Lastly, Miles said he's been very pleased with Rivers over the past few months. Along with his nine points, Rivers five rebounds and was a perfect 4-of-4 from the from the free throw line.
"David's been a pleasant surprise," Miles said. "David's been a guy that's come in and been more productive than some of our upperclassmen, and he's a sponge. He's just 'Yes sir' and will go out and do it. He's been a pleasant surprise. He's worked out in the weight room to gain weight. I know that was an issue for him as a freshman."