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For Nebraska head coach Tim Miles, it wasn't so much a matter of whether his young team would struggle to find its offensive identity during the early portion of this season, but more of how long it would take the Huskers to finally develop the right level of consistency to get over the hump.
While there have been some rough outings over the first month of the season as expected, NU's past 60 minutes of basketball give reason to believe the team is finally starting to click on the offensive end.
After a nightmarish first half in their loss to Creighton back on Dec. 8, the Huskers settled down and out-scored the Bluejays 42-31 in the second half and shot 59.1 percent from the field compared to 30 percent in the first half. That momentum then carried over to last Saturday's 79-67 victory over Arkansas State, as Nebraska put up 50 points in the opening half to mark its largest first-half scoring output since 2008. Earlier in the year, NU ranked among the worst in college basketball in assists, but it dished out a season-high 19 assists against the Red Wolves.
In the week of practices following the Creighton loss, ball movement and creating open shots were two of the biggest points of emphasis for NU. Though the Huskers admittedly had a bit of a second-half lull after their hot start against ASU, it was clear that the offensive work paid off.
"We've been working on that all week," said sophomore forward Shavon Shields, who had a team-high 15 points versus Arkansas State. "We executed at the start really well and that's what we'd been working on. Like you guys said, we kind of lost our edge and messed it up (in the second half), but we look at the positive of that and we have to build off that… We were moving the ball and knocking down open shots. That's what we've been kind of working on a lot, making that extra pass and things like that. I think we did that and that's why we got those 19 assists."
One of Nebraska's biggest problems on offense through the first few weeks of the season was not being patient enough on offense and taking low-percentage shots rather than looking for the extra pass to set up a better look. That was definitely the case in the first half against the Bluejays, as the Huskers took roughly 80 percent of their shots from the perimeter and managed just 25 points after struggling to even reach double digits much of the half.
That approach changed in a big way in the second half of that game, though, as NU basically reversed its offensive attack and took nearly 80-percent of its shots in the paint. The Huskers then put up 36 points in the paint against Arkansas State, their second-highest total of the season.
"Mainly, we've worked on ball movement a lot," sophomore forward Walter Pitchford said. "We've been moving the ball great in games. I think teams can't really guard us when we're moving the ball that fast, at that speed. Somebody is always open and we knock down shots. We've got shooters. The ball movement and stuff, as far as that goes, we're giving up a good shot for a great shot."
As positive as Nebraska's offensive improvements have been, things are still far from perfect on that end of the court. In particular, ball security was a major issue against the Red Wolves, as the Huskers turned the ball over a season-high 16 times.
"I think there have been some good things, but I still think we need to help them," Miles said. "Just with role definition. When you look at the guys, they want to share the ball and get assists. Sometimes they end up over handling the ball like Tai (Webster) and Deverell (Biggs) did (Saturday). Terran (Petteway) tried to make some spectacular passes rather than just getting the next open pass, and that lead to too many turnovers on our part. Those guys are all home-run hitters, they are swinging for the fence and we had a bunch of strike outs."
Though the number of turnovers and the second-half letdown put somewhat of a damper on an otherwise solid offensive outing on Saturday, the Huskers are focusing on the bright side and viewing their past two games as solid steps in the right direction.
"We need to improve each and every day, each and every game," Shields said. "We learn from our mistakes. We just have to keep getting better. We can't look at the negative side of it. We just have to know what we need to do next time. We're going to watch film and learn from it."