As if things couldn't go any worse for Nebraska this season, Wednesday night's game against No. 22 Michigan marked yet another low point in an already forgettable season.
With junior center Jorge Brian Diaz out of the lineup for the rest of the season, the Huskers put up one of their worst offensive performances of the year in a 62-46 loss that looked much better in the final score than it did on the court.
After setting a new Devaney Center low with just 15 points in the first half, Nebraska (11-12 overall, 3-9 in Big Ten Conference) went on to make just 18 total field goals compared to 14 turnovers.
Michigan (18-7, 8-4) wasn't that much better shooting the ball, but some halftime adjustments helped the Wolverines shoot 76.2 percent from the floor in the second half and go up by as many as 26 points at one point.
The loss marks the first time since 1962-63 that Nebraska has suffered seven home losses in a season, and its average margin of defeat at home is now at 15 points per game.
"I'm disheartened," head coach Doc Sadler said. "I hope our fans are disappointed and disheartened. But what does that mean? You get up tomorrow and go back to work. We're disappointed. Every player in that locker room is disappointed. I'm disappointed. I hope every fan that wasn't here is disappointed. But I can promise you this, I wasn't disappointed in my players' effort. It's not their fault. It's not their fault. They're giving me everything they've got."
While Nebraska has had its share of offensive struggles throughout the season, Wednesday night's first half was arguably its worst 20 minutes of the year.
The Huskers opened the game just 1-of-13 shooting from the field and 0-of-7 from 3-point range, making just one basket in the first 10:48 of the game. Michigan wasn't much better, making just 8-of-25 from the floor, but the Wolverines connected on five 3-pointers to help control the lead for all but a few seconds of the half.
It wasn't until senior guard Brandon Richardson stepped up midway through the half that Nebraska showed any sort of life offensively. Richardson scored seven straight points to bring NU back to within 13-11 with 7:36 left, and the Huskers eventually tied it up at 15-15 on a lay-up by senior guard Caleb Walker two minutes later.
That, unfortunately, would be the last scoring Nebraska would get the rest of the half. The Huskers went the final 5:45 without another point, while Michigan added seven to take a 22-15 lead going into halftime.
Richardson scored all seven points of his total points in the first half on 3-of-4 shooting. The rest of his team combined for just eight points and made just 2-of-19 shot attempts.
"It's bad offense," Sadler said. "It's bad. I'm not going to sit here and defend that offense, but it will get better. As our guys can tell you, we spent the last two days working on opening the floor up. But guys, you ain't going to put something in in two days, and that's basically what you're looking at. You're looking at putting something in in two days and go play Michigan.
"I don't know if it could have been much worse, but at the same time, you've got to give your guys some confidence and they've got to know what they're doing. I could panic, but I ain't going to that."
The second half didn't get any better for the Huskers, as Michigan stormed out with a 10-0 run and NU made just one field goal in the first five minutes of the half.
Nebraska didn't finally crack the 20-point mark until senior guard Bo Spencer, who scored a team-high 13 points, hit a 3-pointer with 12:25 to go that made it 37-22.
Michigan kept on rolling the rest of the way and eventually took its biggest lead of the night after freshman guard Trey Burke drained a 3 to bump it up to 59-33 with 3:34 left in the game. The Wolverines shot a blistering 76.2 percent from the floor and hit 6-of-7 from beyond the arc in the second half.
As fans started clearing out with more than seven minutes left, the Huskers made the final score seem a little less brutal by closing the game on a 10-0 run, making it only an 18-point defeat.
It wasn't until a 3-pointer by senior guard Toney McCray with just 1:02 remaining that Nebraska broke the 40-point barrier and avoided setting a season low for total points.
"It's definitely disappointing," junior forward Brandon Ubel said. "To lose this many games, it's not fun. But we all know that we still have a chance to win a few games here down the stretch, and you know, if you get on a run at the right time of the year, anything can happen. That's kind of the attitude right now. Obviously it's disappointing that we're losing, but if we can get hot, make a few shots and have a couple balls bounce our way at the right time, we've still got a shot."
Junior guard Dylan Talley had nine points off the bench for the Huskers, though three of those came on a 3-pointer as the final buzzer sounded. Ubel had six points and nine rebounds.
Michigan guard Zack Novak scored a game-high 14 points, while Burke and guard Stu Douglass followed up with 12 and 13 points, respectively, for the Wolverines.
With their NCAA hopes all but officially evaporated, the Huskers must now hit the road for their longest road trip of conference play and take on Penn State in State College, Penn., on Saturday.
In spite of how bad the season has gotten, Sadler remained positive about the effort of his team.
"It's very disappointing," Sadler said. "Frustrating, disappointing, whatever you want to call it. But it's life. It's life. There's no doubt about it. But again, come out to watch us practice. If you want to ask these questions about frustration or quitting, come watch us practice. See how many times they're diving on the floor when nobody's around. See how much enthusiasm they've got.
"It's not their fault. They're giving me everything they've got, and I'm proud of them. I'm 100-percent proud of them. If they were throwing in the towel, I'd be frustrated. I'd be all that stuff. I'm disappointed in our record, but I'm definitely not disappointed in their effort in practice, and I thought their effort tonight was very, very good. You all may have a different opinion, but that's OK."
Around the rim
***The heat surrounding Sadler's job security definitely didn't cool down any after Wednesday night's performance, but Ubel said the players are still fully behind their coach.
"I mean, he's doing everything he can," Ubel said. "He's putting in the offense, he's putting in the game plans. We just lose focus at times. He can't control if we're shooting the ball well or not. It's absolutely not his fault."
***Diaz's absence played an obviously big role in Nebraska's lack of offensive production. Ubel played 31 minutes in the loss, but Sadler said Nebraska needed more depth down low to keep opponents from adjusting their lineups with no fear of a post presence to defend.
"When you don't have a low-post presence, and we haven't had enough time yet to switch some things up with only two days of preparation to try and take advantage of a smaller lineup that we're going to have to end up having to play the rest of the year probably," Sadler said. "So I just can't say enough about our guys, though, playing for 40 minutes. I'm proud of them. I'm very, very proud of them. It's not their fault. We just need some time to get some things offensively, now that we're facing what we're facing, put in. Until we do, we're going to struggle offensively."
***There was a little bit of contradiction during Sadler and Ubel's post-game interviews. While Sadler said the Huskers struggled to learn a completely different offensive system in the two days after learning Diaz had been lost for the year, Ubel said the offense Wednesday night was no different than what NU had been running all season.
"It's no different," Ubel said. "I mean, we've been practicing all these different offenses from Day 1 … and implementing them in different games when we have different opportunities on offense. We've definitely been practicing stuff."
***Ubel said losing a player like Diaz was certainly a big blow, but added that it was no different than what countless other teams around the country have had to overcome this season.
"It hurts to lose a guy like Brian who can score in the post, but it happens to every team," Ubel said. "Minnesota probably lost arguably their best player (Trevor Mbakwe), and they've found a way to do it."
***Sadler made no excuses for the way Nebraska shot the ball against Michigan, but he said he was very pleased with the way the Huskers played defense the entire game.
"I think our offense was that bad," Sadler said. "I don't think it was just one of those games, but I do think we missed some easy shots, too. I mean, guys, you held a team to 62 points. That maybe doesn't seem like that big of a deal, but it really wasn't a close ball game. It wasn't close. So it's easier to shoot when you're up 10, 15, 16 points. You still held a team way under their average, and we were shooting it pretty quick. We can't guard any better than we guarded."
***Nebraska falls to 1-5 against ranked teams this season following tonight's loss.
***Nebraska's 46 points marked the fifth time the Huskers have been held to under 50 points this season.