LINCOLN – From tip-off to the sight of silent, angry fans heading to the cold with six minutes left, Nebraska's 70-60 loss to Ohio state on Saturday was a mess.
Isaiah Roby spent eight seconds of a critical defensive possession in the second half at midcourt putting on a lost shoe. Isaac Copeland was called for traveling, went up for a dunk anyway, landed wrong and is now out for the year with a knee injury. Glynn Watson took a hit to the groin that stopped playing, fans argued in the case, whether to stay or leave with the Huskers down 1
Fans booed. Tim Miles' stomach turned. And Nebraska lost its fifth game in seven tries.
"We're just blowing opportunities," Roby said.
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With the loss, Miles and his team find themselves 13-7 after starting the year 11-2 and projected as high as a four seed in the NCAA tournament. But since the Michigan State loss, Miles said, his team has lost itself. It's zip on offense and energy on defense.
"Right now it feels to me, it looks to me, like we can just get out of our own way," Miles said. “I thought we looked like a frustrated team. And a team that is mentally just not focused on, 'Hey, let's play with great effort, let's play with great energy.' ”
Just days after his team called" soft "on his radio show, Nebraska played even softer at home. The Buckeyes bullied NOW on the boards, outrebounding the Huskers 45-31. OSU turned 14 offensive rebounds into 14 second chance points.
James Palmer led Nebraska with 19 points and four assists, but NOW was often lost on offense. The Huskers scored a season-low 24 points in the first half. After making its first three shots, Nebraska shot 7 for 26 (26 percent) in the remaining 17 minutes. Muhammad scored 24 points in 35 minutes for Ohio State, adding six rebounds.
In lieu of the starters, heavy minutes in the past five games, Miles turned to his bench for help. He got none
In 51 minutes, the bench scored three points and missed 8 or 9 shots. And with Copeland sidelined for the entire second half, Nebraska leaned heavily on Watson and Palmer, who went into combined 12 of 27 from the floor.
Nebraska led by seven midway through the first, but over the next 19:50 was outscored 39-22
Fans were restless all game. Miles didn't blame them. They screamed at the coach from the upper deck, and after a string of offensive rebounds, sarcastically cheered when Nana Akenten got a defensive rebound. They poured out of the arena from the 6:23 mark to the buzzer.
"As a coach, there's nothing more sickening than emptying out your home arena," Miles said. “I hear the groans. I'm growing. It just makes you sick. ”
Ohio State, meanwhile, snapped a five-game losing streak, and coach Chris Holtmann said he was happy to see his guys smile again. But it doesn't get any easier from here for the Huskers. Not in this Big Ten. Now Ohio State has traded places with Nebraska, searching for some sort of direction after a difficult January.
In the longest postgame press conference of the season, Miles mulled over the game and decisions he made. Maybe he should have kept Palmer on the floor when OSU started to pull away at the end of the first. Maybe what should have done differently?
"That's probably what I'll think about all night," Miles said
But the larger issue ahead of Miles and his team is the elephant in the arena. The expectations, and how far Nebraska looks like it could fall. And how difficult the road looks without Copeland now that his college career is over.
Up next is Wisconsin, which beat No. 2 Michigan a week ago. Then there is Illinois, a team Nebraska beat in December
But December is an entire season ago, before Nebraska lost to Rutgers and lost its confidence. Illinois, meanwhile, won Saturday at No. 13 Maryland
After a week of trying to flip the script, or working on being and focusing inward instead of on the opponent, Nebraska goes back to the drawing board. Miles needs to sit down with his team and figure out what's going on, he said.
"Right now, I think we're in a bad place mentally," Miles said. "You Can Be Afraid of Success or Failure."