LINCOLN, Neb. — It wasn’t the first tightly fought Big Ten battle in Pinnacle Bank Arena, Nebraska’s tilt with Northwestern on Sunday did offer something new this season: A conference loss for the Huskers.
The Wildcats torched Nebraska from 3-point range, hitting 11 shots from behind the arc. The Huskers, meanwhile, struggled to drive the ball inside and couldn’t hit enough mid-range jumpers to keep up with the Wildcats hot shooting.
In the end, Nebraska suffered its first loss in conference play after a 3-0 start, falling 74-66.
Why Nebraska lost
It was more than just Northwestern shooting better than 45 percent from 3-point range. It was the fact that the Wildcats shooters were open all afternoon from beyond the arc. And they hit ’em.
Northwestern’s spacing on offense is pretty impeccable, and that spread the Nebraska defense out to create holes. When Northwestern drove, Nebraska collapsed inside, over-helped, and left shooters wide open.
There’s a small element of fatigue that might have gone into this game, as well. As the game wore on, Nebraska (9-7, 3-1 Big Ten) got less and less disciplined on the defensive end, which only exacerbated its problems covering the Wildcat shooters.
The tip Sunday came less than 72 hours after Iowa took Nebraska to double overtime before the Huskers prevailed in Lincoln. This was also Nebraska’s sixth straight game decided by single digits, and the Huskers’ four games prior to Sunday were all tight contests, down to the wire and decided by five points or less.
On the defensive side of the ball, Northwestern (13-4, 2-2) cut off Nebraska’s driving lanes and forced a non-jump shooting team to shoot jumpers. The high ball screen from Nebraska’s bigs didn’t turn into many buckets in the paint, which also hurt.
Sophomore forward Michael Jacobson typically attacks the offensive glass like crazy and it fuels Nebraska’s offense. Sunday was no different. He finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds, half of them offensive.
After his 34-point burst against Iowa, sophomore guard Glynn Watson Jr. finished with just 6 points on 2-of-11 shooting.
What it means
The magic of the past few weeks hasn’t necessarily run out, but the near-unprecedented run to begin conference play had to come to an end eventually.
In the grand scheme of things, the loss to Northwestern doesn’t do much to Nebraska’s chances to make a run to finish near the top of the Big Ten. What does do, though, is slow down the hype train around Nebraska basketball, which hadn’t started 3-0 in conference play in 41 years. And in the immediate future that could hurt considering that hype train had Pinnacle Bank Arena back to full capacity on Sunday.
The excitement of the Iowa win should still carry over for some time, but it’ll also dwindle a bit after this loss.
Who is next
Nebraska gets a bit of a break before playing at Michigan on Saturday. The Wolverines are 11-5 and have opened conference play 1-2 — losses at Iowa and vs. Maryland with a win against Penn State in between. Michigan will also have a game at Illinois on Wednesday.
— Christopher Heady (@heady_chris) January 8, 2017