When Fred Hoiberg finished his pre-game talk with the Nebraska men’s basketball team, he said the players didn’t “fly up, jump out of their seats and sprint out the door” like they normally would.
“They all sat in their chairs for an extra five or six seconds and just kind slowly got out of their chairs and walked out of the door,” Hoiberg said.
NU was playing its seventh game in 12 days, its third straight road game, and its second game in as many days at Maryland. The Huskers lost, 79-71, in a game more lopsided than the final score would suggest, given the Terrapins led by double digits for most of the second half and Hoiberg had to burn three timeouts to stem the tide of Maryland runs.
The Huskers (5-14 overall and 1-11 in the Big Ten) stayed within a couple possessions for the entire first half and a few minutes of the second half after Dalano Banton hit two of his season-high three 3-pointers.
“It just seemed like, from that point on, they got every loose ball, they got every 50/50 ball, they got every offensive rebound and got them kicked out, and it seemed like every one of them led to a 3,” Hoiberg said.
Maryland hit 13 of them for the night. Nebraska did, too, in rare show of shooting efficiency. The Huskers were led by Teddy Allen’s 25 points. Lat Mayen had 13 and Banton had 11. Maryland (13-10 and 7-9) was paced by Eric Ayala (24 points) and Aaron Wiggins (22), who were too much for the NU on night one, as well.
The Terrapins repeatedly penetrated into NU’s zone defense and kicked swift passes out to open shooters. The Huskers, behind Allen — who didn’t miss a shot or a free throw in the second half — chipped away late.
Nebraska had its worst defensive half in several games after allowing 40 points to the Terrapins in the first half Wednesday night. Maryland guards Wiggins (13) and Ayala (17) combined for 30 points — including the last 22 of the first half — and hit a combined six 3-pointers while Allen (ten points) and Mayen (11) paced the Huskers.
NU led for much of the opening nine minutes until Maryland guard Hakim Hart hit a 3 with 10:47 left in the first half. It was part of a 10-2 Terp run. The Huskers closed to 25-24 on an Allen layup, and to 35-33 on an Allen 3-pointer, but Maryland’s offense, which averaged 1.429 points per possession in the first half, was much too efficient.
Defense had been the Huskers’ calling card in a recent run of games. Wednesday night, they just looked gassed. Asked if Nebraska had any choice in this brutal stretch of games, Hoiberg said Big Ten schedulers originally wanted NU to play at Maryland on Tuesday and Thursday nights — with Wednesday off in between — which Hoiberg nixed for the back-to-back approach, so his team could get a day off Thursday before starting preparation for Purdue.
“It probably cost us our legs (in Maryland),” Hoiberg said of his alternative plan to the Big Ten’s original idea. “But I thought it was better to have a day off, and then get a day to prepare, and then move on to the next portion of our schedule. Nothing’s ideal.”
The Huskers, who went through a four-week COVID pause, sit at the bottom of the league. Michigan — a projected No. 1 seed — sits at the top, and is coming off of long COVID pause of its own. Will the Wolverines be subjected to such a slate?
"It doesn't sound like it, from what I read today,” Hoiberg said, possibly referring to a Detroit Free Press story in which Michigan coaches and players were uncertain what the league might do. “We'll see what Big Ten leadership decides on that."
Would it be fair if Michigan, which has played just ten league games to NU’s 12, doesn’t have to do what Nebraska did?
"I don't know,” Hoiberg said. “I don't know that anything's fair right now just based on what's going on in our world. It's just impossible to plan for a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic."
The coach explained that NU wants “opportunities to get our young guys minutes,” such as freshman center Eduardo Andre, who is playing “valuable” minutes each game.
“As hard as this schedule’s been, it’s important for the future of our program,” Hoiberg said. “I think you’ve seen that in the growth of some of our players.”
Growth, in 2021 for Nebraska, comes with the pain of several losses in a row in circumstances hard to navigate.
Hoiberg wants his team to be strict about getting their rest.
“Tomorrow, I told the guys, I don’t want to see them, I don’t want to see them in the gym,” Hoiberg said.