“Hi, can I get a ticket for the hype train?”
“You better hurry. The train is just about to leave.”
The engine starts to churn, the whistle blows, and the wheels begin to spin as I, and many other fans, catch a last-minute spot aboard the Nebraska basketball hype train after the 20-point win against Michigan last Thursday. It hasn’t been this crowded since 2014.
History hasn’t exactly been favorable for Nebraska against Michigan on the hardwood. The Wolverines were previously undefeated against the Huskers since they joined the Big Ten back in 2011, including a 93-57 stomping in Lincoln last year on senior night. There hasn’t been such a defeat on Nebraska’s home floor since…well ever.
The Huskers dominated the game due to their biggest strength: disruptive defense. This was the second game with the starting lineup of Watson, Gill, Palmer, Copeland, and Roby, and the smaller group proved how effective they can be. They pressured the ball, contested shots, and made Michigan uncomfortable enough to shoot just 37.3% from the field and 22.2% from beyond the arc, in addition to holding All-Big Ten hopeful Mo Wagner to 2 points on 1-5 shooting.
Along with their robust defense, four Huskers finished in double figures, including a career high 14 points from Isaiah Roby. It was the best all around game I have seen from a Nebraska team in years, and the showing I have been longing to see from this year’s group.
This game put this team’s full potential on display, and most importantly, they looked like a highly-competitve basketball team. When they play this type of defense and have multiple players score in double figures, they can play with anyone. It’s preparing them to do so night in and night out that is the real challenge; as we learned once the hype train left Lincoln for Columbus.
As the journey to Columbus progressed, so did the passenger count. More and more fans jumped on board, giddy with excitement from the previous win, and hopeful it could continue through the rest of the season. It’s rare there’s this much buzz around a team at Nebraska not playing football or volleyball.
Before tipoff I wondered if the Huskers would carry momentum from the Michigan win or revert back to their old ways of having a humdrum-offensive purpose and rebounding tribulations. I hoped for the former, unfortunately the latter was the case other than a riveting-scoring performance from James Palmer.
Nebraska led for the first 15 minutes of the game, reaching a lead of 7 at one point, before the Buckeyes slithered back thanks to a plethora of missed layups and a three-minute scoring drought. Ohio State took the lead into the half, and didn’t let up other than a few blips caused by James Palmer’s outrageous night.
Without Palmer this game wouldn’t have been close. The Buckeyes didn’t have an answer for his career-high 34 points, but they did have an answer for the rest of the Huskers. The leading scorers following Palmer were Isaac Copeland with 8 and Anton Gill with 5. I can only assume Palmer had a healthy dose of ibuprofen for his back this morning after carrying the team.
The train from Columbus to Piscataway is noticeably less full, as seems to be tradition after a loss in a very winnable game following a big win. Nebraska fans are now in limbo. Is this team actually good? Yes, they played their best game in years against Michigan and showed they can compete with good teams given the right game plan and preparation. Why can’t they play like that every game? Great question. Consistency is a fatal flaw that has haunted Tim Miles during his time as Nebraska’s head coach. Is it worth it to stay emotionally invested in this team after years of similar results?
Whatever your personal answers are to the above questions, I’m going to enjoy the extra leg room on the way to New Jersey.
- Glynn Watson has only had one game in double-figures since January 2nd against Northwestern. He needs to step up and take some pressure off of Palmer by being more aggressive and creating good shots for others and himself. He’s been on a stretch where he has a scoring surge about every four games. Based on this fact, he’s due for breakout game against Rutgers on Wednesday.
- Jordy was greeted with a warm welcome in his first game back following his odd absence. He logged under 10 minutes in both games this week, adding 4 points and 4 rebounds against Ohio State. I’m curious to see how he plays the rest of the season with Roby handling most of the minutes at the 5.
- I haven’t touched on recruiting yet, but I finally had the chance to watch some Xavier Johnson highlights this week. He signed in November and seems to be the real deal from what I’ve seen. He has great vision, open-court speed, and finesse around the rim. It’ll be interesting to see the minutes distribution at point guard next season, and how he’ll fit in with Glynn Watson and Thomas Allen also on the roster, barring either of them transfer.
- vs. Michigan: W, 72-52
- Points: Palmer, 19
- Rebounds: Taylor, 7
- Assists: Roby, 3
- Blocks: Roby, 2
- Steals: Watson & Taylor (each), 3
- @ Ohio State: L, 64-59
- Points: Palmer, 34
- Rebounds: Roby, 8
- Assists: Watson & Palmer (each), 2
- Blocks: Roby, 2
- Steals: Copeland, Watson & Taylor (each), 1
Up Next (14-8, 5-4 Big Ten):
- Wednesday, January 24th: @ Rutgers. Tipoff at 6pm. Watch on BTN.
- Saturday, January 27th: vs. Iowa. Tipoff at 7pm. Watch on BTN.
- Monday, January 29th: @ Wisconsin. Tipoff at 8pm. Watch on BTN.