LINCOLN — Every dunk by Purdue center A.J. Hammons Saturday seemed to have the same demoralizing effect on Nebraska.
And Hammons jammed home seven of them. One of his two-handed putbacks brought the sold-out crowd to its feet as the halftime buzzer sounded.
The Huskers (12-10, 4-5, 155 RPI) felt every single one, coach Tim Miles said.
“We got down on ourselves during the Purdue game,” he said. “You could just see — like every dunk took a little life out of us. We’ve been trying to build that back up.”
Miles said he didn’t think the Huskers had the necessary mental resolve and competitive fire on defense Saturday. He thought they “backed down” from the challenge. And that critique came just about 10 days after they weren’t sharp enough defensively against Michigan, which turned their mistakes into open layups and jumpers.
The sting of the 89-74 loss at Purdue can’t linger, though. Neither can the disappointment of the loss at home to the Wolverines.
No. 4 Maryland (19-3, 8-2, 6) is next at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. It’s the highest ranked NU opponent since 2011. The team that Miles says has the best starting five in the conference — all of them average in double figures scoring. The squad considered by many to be a possible Final Four participant and a Big Ten title contender — the Terrapins are just a half-game off first place.
“We’ve got to toughen up,” Miles said. “It’s a big-boy league. If you wince or feel bad for yourself, Maryland can steamroll you. Every night is a grind, so you’ve got to be ready to go.”
At least last year, the Huskers proved to be ready for the Terrapins. They battled in two close losses.
They were tied 54-54 in College Park with 5:38 left — but Maryland scored the next eight points to seal it. NU missed four jump shots and turned it over during that decisive stretch.
The Huskers led a good portion of the second meeting in Lincoln until the Terrapins went on a 10-0 run with about 10 minutes left to take control. Nebraska did pull within one point with 41 seconds remaining, but Dez Wells hit a jumper with nine seconds left.
That was nothing new for Maryland, a team that seems to excel in crunch time. The Terrapins were 12-1 in games decided by six points or fewer last year. They’re 6-1 this season.
Still, the Huskers can do better, senior guard Benny Parker said.
“Last year,” he said, “we did a pretty good job here and there — but there were certain things we needed to fix, and I hope we can come and do that this year.”
He said it’ll be important Wednesday for this team to show tangible progress on the court. Half of Nebraska’s regular contributors are freshmen who are still working to adopt an unflappable mentality. That four-game win streak in January needs some supporting evidence.
A win against Maryland? That would be helpful.
“With a team full of young guys, especially against a big opponent, that just boosts everyone’s confidence,” Parker said.
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