Watson powers NU past Leathernecks 73-49
After miserably failing its first real test of the season against Texas Tech at the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City, Nebraska had a lot to prove in Saturday’s return to action vs. Western Illinois.
Senior guard Glynn Watson led the way with a game-high 20 points and a career-high nine rebounds to help the Huskers get some mojo back in a dominant 73-49 win over Western Illinois at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
While its offense was off-and-on, Nebraska’s defense was lights out all afternoon, holding the Leathernecks to just 30.6-percent shooting, 14 turnovers, and two scoring droughts of nearly seven minutes or longer.
“I thought it was good for a while, and then I thought it fell off,” head coach Tim Miles said of NU’s defensive intensity. “But you don’t build a 33-point lead on anybody unless you’re locking them up… I liked where we were defensively. I thought we did a lot of things right for a long time.”
Nebraska sputtered out of the gates and trailed through the early minutes of the first half, but NU would hold Western Illinois scoreless for nearly nine minutes and go on an 11-0 run to take a 17-9 advantage.
That would eventually balloon into a 23-5 run after senior guard James Palmer Jr. scored 10 straight points, and the Leathernecks would go on to score just eight points in the final 15 minutes of the half en route to a 40-17 Husker halftime lead.
The second half opened with a 10-0 Nebraska run for the largest lead of the day at 50-17. But Western Illinois would cut it to 54-33 with a 14-2 run after the Huskers went on a stretch of missing 11 of 12 shots.
A once 33-point lead would eventually dwindle to 18 with just under six minutes to play before NU would get things back under control.
“We kind of fell into the trap of a zone (defense) and taking open threes,” junior forward Isaiah Roby said. “We had a lot of good shots, but they just weren’t falling. Once we started missing threes they were going on fastbreaks, so that’s just something we’ve got to fix in the future.”
Palmer ended up with 19 points while Roby added nine points and seven rebounds. The Huskers shot a solid 46-percent from the floor but were only 4-of-20 from 3-point range. Along with its strong defensive play, NU also owned a 47-33 rebounding advantage.
Guard C.J. Duff was the lone Leatherneck to score in double-figures with 13 points.
Nebraska won’t get much of a break before returning to action on Monday night for its first true road game of the season at No. 16 Clemson as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. That game will tip-off at 6 p.m. CT and will be televised nationally on ESPN2.
“Overall, defensively, we were better,” Miles said. “We just need to keep being better every night. We need to be better against Clemson.”
1. Defense, rebounding led the way
Two of the biggest points of emphasis for Nebraska today were playing tough, consistent defense and dominating the glass on both ends of the court. While an extended scoring slump in the second half allowed Western Illinois to chip away at the lead, the Huskers accomplished both of those goals with great success. Along with holding the Leathernecks to just 19-of-62 shooting with only five free throws, NU had eight steals – including three each by Watson and Isaac Copeland – seven blocks, and owned a 19-5 edge in points off turnovers. On the boards, Nebraska hauled in their second-highest rebounding total of the season with 47, including grabbing 36 of WIU’s 43 misses.
2. Watson bounces back
Watson had been playing the best basketball of his career through the first four games of his senior season, but Tuesday’s loss to Texas Tech was a game to forget. He managed a season-low six points on just 2-of-11 shooting (2-of-7 from 3-point range) in 38 minutes vs. the Red Raiders. But Watson was back in form on Saturday, posting his first 20-point effort of the year on 8-of-10 shooting while tying his career-high with nine rebounds and adding three steals and three assists. “Just being aggressive,” Watson said of his bounce-back effort. “My shot wasn’t really falling last game, but I’m going to stay aggressive and play my game.”
3. Shooting is still an issue
Perimeter shooting was one of the main concerns facing Nebraska entering the season, if not the biggest of all. Through six games, the Huskers have done little to ease those worries. After shooting just 5-of-23 from behind the arc last time out vs. Texas Tech, NU was just 4-of-20 on Saturday, and it's now shooting 32.9 percent from 3-point range on the year. Miles said the issues were partly to due to poor shot selection and partly a matter of guys just not making open shots. One way to help in that regard would be through better ball movement, which was good in the first half (Miles said NU was 12-of-19 from the field when passing it three or more times on a possession) but almost completely absent in the second. Miles added that he doesn’t mind the transition 3-pointers Nebraska has been taking as long as they’re in rhythm, but when the Huskers are in the halfcourt against a bogged down zone defense, they have to break down the zone with more passes to create open looks, and then have guys make those shots.