Miles Ahead: St. John’s, North Dakota, Signs of Improvement

Nebraska has a history with Dunk City. In the very first game at Pinnacle Bank Arena, Florida Gulf Coast served as the Huskers’ opponent just eight months after their entertaining NCAA Tournament run in 2013. The Huskers defeated the Eagles 79-55, but flashes of their famous Sweet 16 run were displayed by multiple rim-rattling dunks.

Four years later, Dunk City relocated to Queens, at least for one night. The Red Storm of St. John’s was in full effect Thursday night, thwarting Nebraska 79-56 in a prototypical-offensive showing by a Tim Miles team. The most glaring stat being shooting, per usual. The Huskers shot 16/57 (28.1%) from the field while giving up thunderous dunks I swear I felt from my couch in Omaha.

The offense had no rhyme or reason, and when Nebraska did have open looks, they couldn’t convert or were hesitant to put the shot up. The ever-repeating story of recent Nebraska teams. One sequence that specifically comes to mind is an offensive possession in the second half when the Huskers were down by 18.

Evan Taylor took over point guard duties while Watson took a breather, and dribbled the ball up the court while his teammates worked to get open. What he found was high-pressure defense where he had to make an entry pass to a teammate five-feet behind the three-point line with no room to breathe. Nebraska didn’t try any aggressive moves to the rim and had to throw up a desperation three as the shot clock expired.

This cannot happen. When you’re down by 18 with little time left you should be aggressive with your offensive possessions; taking the fight to your opponent. 35 seconds were wasted off the clock with nothing to show for it.

The cherry on top of St.John’s victory was in garbage time. The Huskers had the ball just past half court, and freshman Thorir Thorbjarnarson (good luck to any broadcaster trying to pronounce that name) telegraphed a cross court pass–in Tanner Lee fashion–that was picked off for a reverse slam. A fitting ending to a sluggish game.

Two days later, Nebraska faced off against North Dakota and totally redeemed themselves! For the time being at least. In Tim Miles’ six years at Nebraska this is probably the best I’ve seen a team recover from a bad loss. Isaac Copeland broke out and showed he can be a top-scoring option by going 14/16 from the field and finishing with 30 points. Key reserves such as Isaiah Roby and Anton Gill provided additional scoring off the bench, finishing with 11 and 16 points respectively.

There was actual ball movement on offense and Isaac Copeland crashed the offensive boards purposefully, earning easy put-back points.

Miles also tried some smaller lineups with variations of Watson, Taylor, Palmer, Gill, Roby, and Copeland. No big on the floor meant it fell on Roby to play down low. I was intrigued by these lineups as it is the best combination of speed and athleticism this team has to offer. However, this won’t fly in Big 10 play. Big men such as Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ and Purdue’s Isaac Haas will expose size and rebounding weaknesses when this group is on the floor. I’m not sure what Tim Miles’ deal is with Duby Okeke, but I believe he should be getting more minutes. He reminds of Leslee Smith from a few years ago. He’s not the tallest player, but plays a physical game and is a presence around the rim and on the glass. Not to mention he has some hops.

Key Takeaways:

  • Jordy Tshimanga is still extremely raw. He is learning the little parts of the game, and still needs to grow into his body. I’m hoping he can make more strides this season like he did last year.
  • This recovery showed me Tim Miles is capable of making adjustments for the better. The commentators of the North Dakota game kept mentioning how it was a long and tough film session for the Huskers after the loss to St. John’s.
  • Isaac Copeland needs to continue to take shots. He didn’t force anything against North Dakota and worked to get open looks.
  • Isaiah Roby needs to continue to build confidence. I think Roby could be the best player on the team at the end of the year. He is a great shot blocker and has explosive athleticism. He is still hesitant to shoot though.

Results (Stats indicate the high-man for each category):

  • @ St. John’s: L, 79-56
    • Points: Palmer, 13
    • Rebounds: Copeland, 7
    • Assists: Palmer, 3
    • Blocks: Copeland, 2
    • Steals: Copeland, 2
  • Vs. North Dakota: W, 92-70
    • Points: Copeland, 30
    • Rebounds: Copeland, 8
    • Assists: Taylor, 5
    • Blocks: Roby & Okeke, 2
    • Steals: Taylor & Palmer, 2

Next Up (3-1, 0-0 Big Ten): 

  • Thursday Nov. 23: UCF in Orlando as part of the Advocare Invitational. Tipoff at 5pm CST. Watch on ESPN3. Forecast is calling for some Frost.
  • Friday Nov. 24: West Virginia or Marist as part of the Advocare Invitational. Tipoff TBA. Watch on ESPN2 or ESPN3 depending on UCF result.
  • Sunday Nov. 26: TBA


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