So much for the Nebraska men's basketball team enjoying a day off Thursday.
Tim Miles was so disgusted with his team’s mental approach to begin Wednesday night’s game against Purdue at the Devaney Sports Center, that he rearranged the schedule.
“I don’t care if they’re tired. I honest to God don’t care,” Miles said after Nebraska’s 65-56 loss to the Boilermakers kept the Huskers winless in Big Ten Conference play.
“We’re going to go so hard tomorrow, it’s going to be amazing. They’re young. They’ll bounce back. We’ve got these cold tubs and hot tubs. They can soak in those.”
Wait, did you think Miles would be raving about his team’s rally from a 20-point deficit that pulled the Huskers within five points with 6:03 remaining?
The first-year coach was more perturbed that the margin was that great to begin with -- especially after a week in which his short-handed team played No. 2 Michigan and No. 22 Michigan State in competitive road losses.
“It’s not just about winning or losing, either,” Miles said. “It’s about the way you compete, and we didn’t compete at all. Purdue got anything they wanted. Whatever they wanted to run, they were going to get a good shot. We didn’t show a mental toughness or a mental readiness to come out and compete.”
Miles, for the most part, was referring to the first half, when Purdue (9-8, 3-2 Big Ten) scored at ease inside, either on lobs to 7-foot freshman center A.J. Hammons, who finished with 14 points, or on penetration from guards Terone Johnson and Ronnie Johnson, who combined for 28 points.
The Boilermakers led by 12 points in the first half and were ahead 28-19 at halftime.
“Sad to say, we weren’t ready to play,” said freshman guard Shavon Shields, who scored a career-high 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds to pace Nebraska (9-9, 0-5).
“We just need to be better than that in the first half. They were taking us out of everything we were doing. They were scoring at ease. Our ball-screen defense wasn’t good, and they were just at the rim, all the time.”
Purdue opened the second half with a 13-2 run, and built a 43-23 lead with 16:21 remaining.
Nebraska, behind a more aggressive defense, began forcing turnovers -- eight in the second half -- and scoring out of transition. The Huskers chipped away, pulling within 46-40 with 9:09 remaining, and 51-46 with 6:03 left.
Both times, Purdue senior guard D.J. Byrd answered with a three-pointer to quiet the crowd of 8,190, and the Huskers never got closer.
“I thought that gave us real life,” Miles said of the defensive intensity over the last 15 minutes. “We hadn’t had much life. I thought that finally gave us a little bit of fire.”
Where was that fire to begin the game?
“That’s what I asked them,” Miles said. “That’s why I called that last timeout. I said, ‘Look around, what do you see? Empty seats, people heading to the exits.’
“We’re supposed to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, and I’m not interested in continuing this. It comes out to, ‘Why?’ and Shavon Shields says we’re not ready to play.”
Nebraska committed a school record-low two turnovers, and attempted a Big Ten season-high 66 shots, but made only 22. Shields and walk-on Jordan Tyrance, who scored a career-high 10 points, combined to shoot 10-of-21 and score half of Nebraska's points.
The rest of the team, minus injured senior forward Brandon Ubel, who didn’t play, was 12-of-45 from the field.
“When a true freshman’s leading you, and a walk-on’s leading you, you’ve got a real problem on your hands,” Miles said. “Now, God bless those guys, because they were terrific, but at the same time, we need more than that.”
Nebraska, 0-5 in conference play for the second time in four seasons, plays at Penn State, also winless in league play, Saturday.
“I just refuse to believe that we couldn’t come out here and win this game tonight,” Miles said. “Whatever we were thinking, we’ve got to change the way we think.”