LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska created buzz across the Big Ten and nationally with road wins over Indiana and Maryland, teams that were a combined 23-3 at the time.
Make no mistake, a 2-0 start in conference play is a big deal at Nebraska. The program has finished 11th and 12th the last two years, previously won its first two in league play in 2005-06 and less than three weeks ago was beaten at home by Gardner-Webb.
“We can’t get overconfident,” forward Michael Jacobson said Wednesday. “I know it’s two good wins on the road, but it’s only two wins. We have 16 games left in the conference, so there’s a lot ahead of us and a lot of work to be done. We have to keep that mindset and that chip on our shoulder.”
The challenge is for Nebraska (8-6, 2-0) to carry the momentum to its home court. The Cornhuskers, who host Iowa (9-6, 1-1) on Thursday night and Northwestern (12-3, 1-1) on Sunday, are 25-16 overall and 8-10 in Big Ten games at Pinnacle Bank Arena since 2014-15. They were 15-1 and 8-1 there in 2013-14, the building’s inaugural season.
“We want to make Pinnacle Bank ‘The Vault’ like it was year one. We haven’t done that as well since,” coach Tim Miles said. “That’s really its own goal, and really we’ve concentrated on that more than being 2-0 in the league because it’s such a long season.”
Glynn Watson Jr. and Tai Webster have led the Huskers’ recent surge. Watson combined for 43 points against Indiana and Maryland and is averaging 13.9 for the season. Webster, a 6.1-point career scorer entering his senior season, scored crucial baskets against Maryland and is averaging a team-leading 17.4 points.
Jacobson and Ed Morrow Jr. have played with toughness on the inside, and freshman forward Jeriah Horne emerged in the nonconference finale against Southern with 18 points and followed that with 11 against Indiana.
The Huskers are improving offensively since Miles eliminated a significant portion of the playbook in a quality-over-quantity move. They still aren’t much to look at, though. They average 14 turnovers, shoot 42 percent overall and 31 percent from 3-point range.
But they’ve been aggressive rebounding on the offensive end and have held strong defensively. They limited then-No. 16 Indiana to 43-percent shooting and forced 19 turnovers in a 87-83 victory that broke the Hoosiers’ 26-game win streak at Assembly Hall. They outscored Maryland 14-0 over the final 6:43 and flummoxed the Terrapins with a 1-3-1 zone defense in a 67-65 win .
The sweep of Indiana and Maryland on the road was more than Miles had hoped for initially.
“Quite frankly, I told the guys before, ‘We’ve got to get a split. We can get a split.’ I was thinking we could beat Maryland. I thought that was a better matchup for us. Then we beat Indiana and I had to change my mind,” Miles said.
To keep the good times rolling, Nebraska must end a five-game losing streak to Iowa. The Huskers’ biggest task will be defending Peter Jok, who leads the Big Ten with 22.1 points a game, and slowing one of the most up-tempo offenses in the country.
They also must stay level-headed.
“When you have a week like we did, that’s one of the biggest things - maybe you get comfortable or stop doing something you did because you think, ‘Oh, we’re good,’ ” Jacobson said. “We talk about it, and the coaches bring it to our attention if they feel something is a little different, and we do a pretty good job of self-monitoring as well.”
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