Nebraska coach Tim Miles received some words of wisdom from assistant coach Jim Molinari Thursday.
“He goes, ‘You know the hardest thing when you have a good team but you’ve lost a couple in a row, the hardest thing to do is win a game,’ and it’s true,” Miles said Thursday after his team came away with a tough 70-64 victory over Penn State at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
The Huskers are a good team. They now stand 12-4 for the season and 2-3 in the Big Ten.
At the same time, that record coulda/shoulda been better. Miles’ team let potential wins slip away at Minnesota, Maryland and Iowa.
There is one thing that stands out a quarter of the way through the Big Ten season. There just isn’t going to be anything easy, at home or on the road.
Penn State proved that. The Nittany Lions are 0-5 in the conference and 7-9 overall, but they gave the Huskers everything they wanted Thursday night. They did what they had to do to stay in the game and have a chance at the end.
Penn State had just eight turnovers in the game — although a couple came in the final minute or so. The Huskers turned those eight turnovers into just 11 fast break points.
That’s on the low side for this Nebraska team. These Huskers are best when they get out and run.
But they also have to get back on defense. That’s something they didn’t do last weekend in a 93-84 loss at Iowa when the Hawkeyes scored 29 fast break points.
It was a completely different kind of game Thursday. Penn State didn’t want a fast pace. The Nittany Lions wanted to play a half court game, and that’s just what happened.
But thanks in large part to Isaiah Roby and his 22 points and 11 rebounds, the Huskers came out on top.
“I just thought we were a little uptight, and you can see that,” Miles said. “So, I think that’s what was hard, was just to win the game and you try to just stay in the moment but you see frustration from the guys.”
Some are worried that you saw fatigue as well. Roby, Isaac Copeland, James Palmer and Glynn Watson all played right at 38 minutes against Penn State while the fifth starter, Thomas Allen, played 34.
The minutes are piling up on this Husker team early in the Big Ten season. The starters played the entire second half Thursday, and Miles definitely didn’t plan on that.
“Nana Akenten had been sick the last few days so he missed all the prep, and Amir (Harris) is just starting to practice again full,” Miles said. “So I played them (in the first half). I decided at halftime, well I don’t love it so I thought I’d play Tanner (Borchardt), but every time I brought it up those assistants talked me out of it. That’s true.”
What’s also true is that the Huskers tied a school record with their 20th straight home win. PBA is proving to be a tough place for opposing teams to play.
“We don’t talk about it at all really except that we’re not letting this team beat us at home,” Miles said of the home winning streak. “I think it’s a tribute to our fans and the environment that they provide, the energy…
“I think they (the players) do a really good job. Our defensive numbers have been really, really good at home I mean far better than anywhere else. I think they feed off that energy from the crowd. It might hurt us a little bit on the road when you don’t have the same but that’s something we just have to figure out.”
And now it’s back on the road again for the Huskers. They play at Indiana Monday before facing a tough Michigan State team Thursday at PBA, and then go on the road again against Rutgers on Jan. 21.
That’s five Big Ten road games out of the first eight.
“Some of your worst qualities come out on the road. That’s just the way it is and you have to overcome that,” Miles said earlier this week. “Sometimes you have to win by 15 to win by five.”
That hasn’t happened so far this season.
The good news is that eventually the Huskers will have a nice run of home games.
The Huskers begin a run of five of seven games at PBA when they host Ohio State on Jan. 26.
Nebraska can beat anybody on the schedule at The Vault, but there’s no gimmes in there. And there’s always that final road trip of the season when the Huskers face Michigan and Michigan State before finishing out the regular season at home against Iowa.
The quality of the Big Ten is no surprise. The conference wasn’t as good a year ago, but just about every team was loaded with young talent. Now that young talent has matured.
That means that even though the Huskers are better, so is everyone else.
The Big Ten is a meat grinder this season. Husker fans have to hope their team isn’t the one to get chewed up.
Bob Hamar is sports editor for The Independent.