Foul-plagued Nebraska can’t sustain early momentum against Creighton

Foul-plagued Nebraska can’t sustain early momentum against Creighton
Ronnie Harrell had 12 points and 11 rebounds in the Creighton victory. (World-Herald News Service)

Even after his sixth straight loss to Creighton as Nebraska’s basketball coach, Tim Miles mustered a bit of a smile and offered this:

“That was a lot of fun for a long time.”

Much more fun for a longer period of time than at any point recently in this series, yet still not enough for NU to avoid a seventh straight loss overall to the Bluejays 75-65.

Nebraska (7-4) accomplished much of its game plan Saturday while building a five-point halftime lead and staying within one point as the clock ticked inside four minutes.

That was the first time Creighton (7-2) trailed at halftime this season.

Overall, NU controlled the pace, holding CU 17.5 points under its average and to 23.8 percent 3-point shooting (5 of 21). The Jays entered the day hitting 38.8 percent from long range.

The Huskers also forced 10 first-half turnovers, something Creighton coach Greg McDermott said he couldn’t recall in his eight years at the school.

Yet enough glitches arose — three starters shooting a combined 6 of 28, allowing 10 offensive rebounds, going scoreless 9 of 10 possessions early in the second half — to blunt the upset bid.

Said Miles: “If we’re going to beat a really good team on the road — and I think Creighton is a really good team — we have to have seven or eight guys all being a star in their role and doing what they do.

“We just didn’t have that tonight, even though we were right there.”

Fouls hampered the Huskers all day, as they attempted just three free throws and made two — all from forward Isaac Copeland, who led NU with 20 points and 11 rebounds.

“I’m surprised we didn’t get to the foul line more,” Miles said, staring silently at the questioner for a few seconds.

Forward Isaiah Roby, who scored 10 points, played only 13 minutes because of early and repeated foul trouble. That meant 14 minutes of playing time for backup Jack McVeigh, who had zero points and one rebound and allowed consecutive baskets with about eight minutes left.

Nebraska had plenty of self-inflicted woes.

Center Jordy Tshimanga missed all five of his close-range shots. He had zero points, two rebounds and two turnovers in 10 minutes.

Point guard Glynn Watson’s struggles against Creighton continued, largely because of the defense of the Bluejays’ Khyri Thomas.

Watson, who had 29 points Tuesday in a win over No. 14 Minnesota, scored eight against CU, shooting 4 of 14 and missing all five 3-pointers before fouling out. In three games in this series, Watson is 7 of 30 from the field (23.3 percent) with 17 points and 15 fouls.

The 6-foot-3 Thomas, the 2017 Big East co-defensive player of the year, used his 6-9 reach and 40-pound weight advantage against the 6-0, 170-pound Watson.

“No doubt Glynn didn’t have his best game,” Miles said. “That length probably bothered him. We tried to shake him loose. Khyri is a terrific defender. That was a tough matchup for us.”

Another tough matchup lies ahead.

Nebraska takes final exams this week, then hosts No. 2 Kansas at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Saturday night. Copeland said he continues to see progress from Nebraska against strong opponents.

“We’re a good team with a lot of individual experience,” said the junior transfer from Georgetown. “We had moments where we got settled in. But the second half they outplayed us.

“That’s where individual experience needs to come together into a team experience. We’re still learning.”

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