LINCOLN — Nebraska learned the hard way Sunday what happens when you let a quality opponent enter your building and control tempo.
Other than a wild final two minutes of the first half when NU scored 14 straight points, Northwestern stood strong on defense and shot at least 50 percent in both halves to claim a 74-66 victory that snapped a four-game winning streak for the Huskers (9-7, 3-1 Big Ten).
“We weren’t up to the fight,” coach Tim Miles said. “They took the fight to us.
“We blew defensive assignments. They made 3s. Then we kind of morphed into this team that was forcing the ball at the rim — just that ugly basketball. Their defensive edge and intensity created that.”
Northwestern (13-4, 2-2) packed its man-to-man defense tightly into the lane with the idea of keeping Husker guards Tai Webster and Glynn Watson away from the rim.
After Webster and Watson jointly produced 57 points on 53 percent shooting in Thursday’s win over Iowa, they combined for 23 points Sunday and hit 7 of 25 shots (28 percent).
“Webster and Watson have been fantastic the first three games,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “We put a big emphasis on those guys. You’ve got to try to take away their layups because they are so fast and such strong drivers.”
Webster led NU with 17 points, but was 5 of 14 shooting. Watson, coming off a career-high 34 points, hit 2 of 11 shots and scored six points.
“Glynn, I think, talked himself out of it tonight,” Miles said. “He saw more than was there.”
Northwestern also had two other things going against Watson. First, the Wildcats generally used a 6-foot-7 defender against the 6-foot Watson. Some hometown knowledge also helped.
Northwestern has six Chicago-metro area players on its roster. Watson played at Westchester St. Joseph in suburban Chicago.
“There was a little bit of a comfort zone,” Collins said. “Our guys know Glynn a little bit because they grew up playing against him.”
Nebraska never got in a comfort zone, despite some short bursts of strong play.
The Huskers took a 10-2 lead to start the game, fell behind 33-23, then exploded for 14 straight points in the final 1:37 of the first half to go up 37-33 at the break. NU forced four turnovers in those final five possessions, and Webster scored eight points.
“I think initially we were a little shell-shocked,” Collins said of blowing the lead. “We were angry, but we couldn’t express it because we felt we were in control of the game.”
Nebraska started the second half getting six points from forward Michael Jacobson, who finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds, and built a seven-point lead.
Over the next six minutes, though, Northwestern drilled five straight 3-pointers to turn that deficit into a 56-50 lead with 9:36 left. Nebraska never got closer than two points the rest of the way.
“We know they had shooters,” said Husker guard Evan Taylor, who had 11 points, four assists and three steals. “One quick letup and just like that, that’s five 3s and now we’re playing catchup.”
Miles called that six-minute teamwide brain cramp a lost opportunity.
“We had turnovers and a variety of blown assignments,” he said. “At that point in the game, even though there were nine minutes left, they just ripped our hearts out. Anything we had built was history, and we weren’t up to the fight.”
Nebraska was coming off a double-overtime win over Iowa in which five Huskers played between 35 and 49 minutes. Webster, who played 49, was seen at various times Sunday rubbing his thighs and calves. He missed the postgame to receive treatment.
“I don’t want to make any excuses,” Jacobson said. “Everybody has quick turnarounds. (Northwestern lost at home Thursday to Minnesota).
“We just got away from ourselves a little. They did a good job of positional defense. They sat in those lanes and forced us to take outside shots. That hurt us.”
Horne gets less time; Jack gets a crack
Freshman Jeriah Horne, who had been an offensive spark plug in Nebraska’s four-game winning streak, played seven minutes, scoring two points.
Miles said Horne got some extra schooling in film from the Iowa game on shot selection after going 2 of 10 from 3-point range against the Hawkeyes, including missing his final six shots.
The 6-foot-7 forward from Overland Park, Kansas, missed his lone 3-point try Sunday and hit 1 of 3 shots.
“He blew a couple of assignments,” said Miles, who instead used Jack McVeigh for 12 minutes in that spot. McVeigh drilled two 3-pointers after making one the previous six games.
“You can see readiness,” Miles said, referencing Horne. “We decided to give Jack a crack. He came in and hit some buckets and did a good job defensively. We’ll go back to Jeriah, but he’s got to be ready. He’s got to earn his minutes like everybody else.”
Collins praised Pinnacle Bank Arena since the first time he brought his team to Lincoln, and he doubled down Sunday after 15,053 attended.
“I love playing here because of the fans,” he said. “People should be proud of what Coach Miles has built.
“It’s a great environment for college basketball. I know the students weren’t here, but their fans were loud and it was red. You guys have some of the best fans, which is really cool.
“To come back from the deficit we had in this environment, I thought it showed a lot of toughness. We know we have good players. But can we be tough enough?”
Bits and pieces
» Out of the 40 minutes of play, in how many of those did Miles like the shots Nebraska’s offense got? “I didn’t feel like I ever liked the shots,” the coach said. “Our offensive execution was poor all night.”
» Jacobson’s double-double was his second of the season. He has nine rebounds or more in all four Big Ten games so far.
» Nebraska doesn’t play again until 1 p.m. Saturday at Michigan (11-5, 1-2). The Wolverines lost Saturday at home to Maryland.