WASHINGTON — A fast start to the Big Ten season seems like such a long time ago for the Nebraska basketball team.
The Cornhuskers came to the nation’s capital for the 2017 Big Ten tournament and were the first team to be sent home after losing 76-67 to Penn State in the opening game Wednesday at Verizon Center. Nebraska was once 3-0 in conference play, but lost 13 of 16 against conference foes after that.
Nebraska trailed 55-46 after a dunk by Penn State’s Mike Watkins with 5 minutes, 11 seconds left in the second half Wednesday, but the Cornhuskers clawed back and tied the game with less than a minute remaining at 58-58 and got the game to overtime at 60-60.
Evan Taylor led the Cornhuskers with 15 points. Tai Webster had 12 points and 5 rebounds.
Penn State advanced to play No. 5 seed Michigan State on Thursday afternoon. Land of 10’s Sean Keeler wondered earlier in the day if this was head coach Tim Miles’ last stand with the Cornhuskers.
Athletic director Shawn Eichorst, however, tweeted this just after the game ended:
— Shawn Eichorst (@BigRedAD) March 8, 2017
Here’s what Miles and three players — Webster, Taylor and freshman Jordy Tshimanga — had to say after the loss:
Miles: “I’m obviously greatly disappointed that our season’s come to an end. We have a guy like Tai Webster who developed into an all-league guard, have his career end. He’s been a pleasure to coach. I have to credit Penn State doing the things, took away some of the things we do well, and made enough shots to stretch it out in overtime and get the win.”
Webster: “They just made a couple plays down the stretch. The ball seemed like it wasn’t dropping in for us. Had a couple good looks, but unfortunately couldn’t capitalize on those looks.”
Taylor (on Mike Watkins’ big night, including a tournament-record 8 blocks): “Honestly, I mean, the game plan was the same. Obviously he’s a good player. Good players are going to make plays. I feel like our bigs, they did a good job on him. Us as guards could have helped more. I mean, there’s not really much to say about it. Credit to him having a good game when it mattered.”
Miles: “We thought that Tai was (a tough) matchup on (Penn State guard Tony Carr). Tai is a strong guard … He felt like he could go 1-on-1 with him. It got him in foul trouble, though. I think that was a key part of the game. We talked on and off about doubling (Carr). We went after one of his ball screens pretty hard the first possession of overtime. We brought two to him. (Carr) threw it back to Stevens for his second (3-pointer) of the game. That was a big play, to get overtime started.
“Then sure enough, we go down, I think a possession or two later, and Tai misses a bonus (free throw) and fouls out. Just kind of frustration. That kind of sums up our year.”
Miles: “As we went into the year, we knew we were going to be a little bit short on outside shooting. At Christmas, we played probably the No. 1 nonconference schedule in the country, so we played Creighton when they were ranked and healthy, at Kansas, played UCLA, we played Clemson at Clemson, Virginia Tech, Dayton, a lot of quality teams. We were only 6-6 at Christmas, but we felt very good. We started out 3-0 (in the Big Ten). We’re feeling it.
“(Then) Ed Morrow says, ‘My foot hurts.’ That was kind of the beginning of the end. He tried to play the next game. He didn’t play for how many? 1-6 in that stretch. Lost consecutive 1-point games. I think at the end, there were some guys that were worn out, but I was proud of them tonight coming out. Although we didn’t have great rhythm, we fought back, found a way to get it to Tai. Showed a lot of resolve that way. But then, like I say, that play where Tai misses the bonus, (Penn State guard) Shep (Garner) circles in and out, hits the background, goes in. I don’t know how you would have called that one on a radio. That seems like it sums up our year. Simplest error, someone makes a play on us, you look up, you’re dead in the water with 2 minutes left.
Miles (on offensive struggles): “I think Watkins had a big deal to do with that. He had 8 blocks. More importantly, every timeout, we have it at the rim, 2s and 3s. We have our numbers at 12 for 35 at the rim. You’d expect to shoot 55-60 percent at the rim, at least, even in a well-contested game. I thought they did a good job of protecting the rim, even in transition. We had a few plays, one in overtime, where I thought we were at the rim and maybe we had a chance to draw contact and get a foul. Penn State did a great job defending. We just couldn’t get anything going at the rim. That hurts us.”
Miles (on Eichorst tweet): “I’m back!” … (On his thoughts about that tweet) “He and I talked over the last few weeks. There was no doubt he was with me and supporting me. I knew he was probably going to do something after the season (like this). Shawn is a man that believes in us, supports us. Even when we were struggling, he wouldn’t waver. Although the media kind of has a field day with it — I guess they are just bored, right? Shawn has been there for me, and I’m going to come through for him. We’re going to show that his faith in us is justified.”