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Eastern Illinois Versus Nebraska

Time: 7:30pm CST
Location: Pinnacle Bank Arena – Lincoln, Neb.
Watch: BTN Plus or FloHoops.com

Huskers knock off rust in season opener against Eastern Illinois by Carter Donahue

@Carterdonahue_

In a back-and-forth contest that came down to the wire, Glynn Watson Jr. led Nebraska with 21 points to a 72-68 victory over Eastern Illinois in the Huskers’ season opener at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

Alongside Watson’s game-high 21 points, sophomore Isaiah Roby sparked the Huskers off the bench, tallying 11 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks – all of which are career highs. Senior Evan Taylor and James Palmer Jr. each added 12 points.

Eastern Illinois, led by the son of former Husker assistant Charlie Spoonhour, Jay Spoonhour, led for over 17 minutes of the game, (opposed to NU leading just over 13 minutes) and led for most of the second half  – leading to a mostly quite Pinnacle Bank Arena on Saturday night.

After a strong preseason which led to many optimistic Nebrasketball fans, a 72-68 win over an Ohio Valley Conference team may concern some.

Here are my takeaways from Nebraska’s season-opening win over Eastern Illinois:

— First, Eastern Illinois is better than many give them credit for. Like Miles said in his press conference, “You don’t beat Illinois on accident.” In addition, the Ohio Valley Conference is also better than some may give credit for. Miles made that very clear this week in preparation for the game.

— Nebraska didn’t play that poorly. The Huskers got pretty good looks and did some good things offensively. However, missing 16 free throws and going 22-57 (5-16 from 3) doesn’t help. Overall, Nebraska played better than what the score said, and at the end of the day, it’s Game 1. This team showed signs of potential.

–Isaiah Roby was fantastic. The sophomore who never seemed to be completely healthy last season started off his sophomore campaign with career-highs in points, rebounds and blocks. With the Husker bench struggling to provide help, Roby was a spark off the bench from the moment he came in the game. For a player that seemed to have lacked confidence at times last season, he looked great in the season opener.

–Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland, for the first time this season (including three-game preseason), looked efficient. He looked comfortable. While only scoring eight points, the junior was 4-of-6 with five rebounds. Look for Copeland to be more involved later down the road for Nebraska.

–Evan Taylor showed positives and negatives late in the game. Starting with the negatives, which was really just at the line where he went 6-for-11. That has to improve. But on the bright side, Taylor was great defensively all night, especially down the stretch. With under two minutes to go, and after he just missed two free throws, Taylor came from a help-side position to get block EIU’s center from what appeared to be an open layup. It was a huge play that stopped the Panthers from scoring and allowed NU to extend its lead. Little plays like that and consistently staying in front of EIU guards (who average above 15 ppg) were huge contributions that a box score won’t show.

— Jordy Tshimagna needs more touches. It’s tough to get the big guy consistent touches when you have talented scoring guards like Nebraska, but when the sophomore got the ball, he was effective. In fact, out of the four (yes, just four) legitimate post touches I remember Tshimanga getting, his first led to an assists, his second led to him drawing a foul and a trip to the free throw line, the third was another smart pass leading to a foul on an attempted layup, and the third was a hook shot that barely missed. Again, he was effective, but his sample size needs to grow. Defensively, the Canadian native grabbed 11 rebounds and was a beast down low.

–Thomas Allen was good again. With Roby, Allen was really the only bench player to contribute to Nebraska’s win. Late in the second half, when Nebraska had missed nine of its last 10 shots, Allen came in and drilled a huge 3 that cut EIU’s largest lead of the game in half. The 3 got PBA on its feet, and moments later, Watson splashed in a 3 for himself, tying the game and ultimately giving Nebraska the run it needed to get over the top. Allen was composed for a freshman and never tried to do too much. He played really well in his debut.

— Nebraska’s defensive pressure was very good to start off the game, and it led to easy layups in transition. The Huskers used this to start 6-for-8 from the field and to electrify a packed Pinnacle Bank Arena. However, the defensive intensity came in spurts, it wasn’t consistent. When Nebraska plays intense, pressure defense, they looked really good. It may seem simple, but in the first half, Nebraska was up pressuring EIU’s guards well past the three-point line, leading to several tipped passes and steals. Later in the game, the Huskers started to fall back closer the three-point line and lacked ball pressure, seemingly because the bench play and some of the newcomers struggled against the Panthers’ isolation on the perimeter.

–Nebraska ran most of its sets with a guy at the high post, usually Tshimanga or whoever was playing the ‘5’ at the time. While this benefits Watson and creates pick-and-roll opportunities, it also clogs the lane for slashers like James Palmer Jr – who really struggled tonight. When Palmer wasn’t getting his perimeter shots to fall, it was difficult for him to drive the lane when Nebraska had a player at the high post. This often led to several over-drives and over-penetrations that Miles addressed after the game. An offense with more spacing and ball movement would seem to benefit not only Palmer, but guys like Copeland, Taylor and even Jack McVeigh. If Nebraska can get out in transition like they’ve worked on so much in practice, this will create more space for some of Nebraska’s talented 1v1 players.

All in all, despite the illusion that barely beating Eastern Illinois is bad, Nebraska finally got to play in a real game with a very new roster, and they won. They found a way to win in a close game down the stretch and this experience will likely help a new-looked Husker team.

Nebraska will be back in action Monday night as the Huskers host North Texas (1-0) at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.

A member of the Football Writers Association of America, Brandon has spent over a decade reporting on and researching college football, both the sport itself and recruiting.

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