LINCOLN, Neb. – The easy answer is that he has no other choice.
Nebraska coach Tim Miles’ team is his team, whether he likes it or not.
They’re his livelihood, he said on Thursday. And because he has no other choice, he supports his players with ceaseless, unrelenting, total trust.
Which is why with fewer than 20 seconds left at the end of regulation and also at the end of the first overtime against Iowa on Thursday, he let his players play. He didn’t call a timeout to coach them up or signal for them to foul to make Iowa earn the win at the free-throw line.
He trusted his team, the second youngest team by age in the Big Ten, to get a stop.
And they did.
“I just thought, ‘Let’s just play it out,’ Miles said.
Total, unambiguous, trust.
Through their faults and their collective youth, Miles has more faith in his team than ever before, he said on Thursday after Nebraska’s 93-90 double-overtime win over Iowa.
Which is part of the reason Nebraska is on a four-game win streak. And 3-0 in conference play for the first time since World War II. And currently atop Big Ten standings just 18 days after losing at home to Gardner-Webb.
“We’ve hung in there, attitude-wise,” Miles said of the past few weeks. “And that means a lot. That’s all I’m asking for, right? But that’s not easy to do. You get outside voices, you get egos, you get lot of things could get in your way at a high level in basketball because there’s a lot of people coming your way. And so this has been great for us, and I’m proud of our guys.”
And the thing is, despite Nebraska starting one senior, a JUCO transfer and three sophomores, Miles has good reason to trust his team.
He trusts them because they guard well to get stops, like they did in the final seconds Thursday against Iowa.
Miles trusts senior guard Tai Webster because he has the experience, leads with empathy and picks up the group when things go awry. So even though Webster had four fouls with five minutes left in the second half Thursday, Miles kept him in the lineup. Webster finished with 23 points, seven assists and three rebounds, including the game-sealing free throws. He also managed to avoid fouling out during the final 15 minutes despite guarding Iowa’s Peter Jok, whom Webster called “the best scorer” he’s ever played against.
Miles trusts junior guard Evan Taylor, the JUCO transfer, because he won’t quit. Taylor played 42 of the game’s 50 minutes, missing two free throws at the end of regulation that could have won the game. Miles didn’t play Taylor much at the beginning of this season, but he kept Taylor in the game late Thursday during the first and second overtimes because he knew he would guard and grit out the win, despite Taylor not having made a free throw the entire game.
And maybe more than anyone else on the team, Miles trusts his sophomore point guard, Glynn Watson Jr., because he delivers. Watson Jr. finished with 34 points, hit seven 3-pointers, added four assists and three rebounds against Iowa. Watson hit 3s in transition, floaters with contact and dished assists in the lane to keep the game close when Iowa began to pull away. It’s gotten to the point now, Miles said, that he’ll call a play for Watson and just trust something good will happen.
“I call it playground, where we have like four different sets where we just basically get out of Glynn’s way,” Miles said. “And I’m like, ‘Let him do his deal, guys.'”
Nebraska is the second youngest team in the Big Ten.
Collectively, only one player on the roster has seen a winning season at Nebraska.
And, yet, the players are the ones who are in control of timeouts. The players are the ones barking at each other in the huddle, Miles said.
And now, Nebraska has won its past four games.
This is Miles’ team, so he has no choice. So he’ll trust them.
“When you’re in the huddle, you can just see,” Miles said. “You can see in their own heads they’re focused and they’re locked in on game plan, on personnel. Like this is what this guy’s been doing. And you can see that. And they’re talking to each other. When they’re vocal like that, and they run the timeouts, you feel pretty good as a coach.”