Nebraska head coach Tim Miles' joke fell flat. When asked what he wanted to see from his team the rest of the season, Miles responded "I want to win out". Silence. "That was a joke" he said. "Isn't that what Bo said?" Yes, coach, yes he did. A few uncomfortable chuckles came from the reporters in the room once they realized where he was going with the ill fated humor.
What wasn't a joke, was the basketball game his team had just lost to #11 Ohio State 63-56. Earlier in the week, Miles questioned whether his team believed they belonged on the same floor as the big boys of the Big Ten. "It's what you expect of yourself. I just don't think we expect enough of ourselves" he said Friday.
Earlier in the season he questioned his team's pride. Both times his team responded with arguably two of their better performances of the year. The first time they best Northwestern, this time, however, they were not quite able to make enough plays to pull off the upset of the Buckeyes. "Our margin of error is (so small that) we can't afford (mental lapses) to make some of those things," Miles said.
The Huskers (11-12, 2-8) had their opportunities to make this game finish with a different outcome. Ray Gallegos hit a three pointer with 6:21 to go in the first half to give the Huskers a 19-17 lead. They would miss their next six shots and the Buckeyes (17-4, 7-2) would finish the half on a 15-4 run.
In the second half, OSU held a lead by as many as 15 points as late as 8:43 to go. But the Huskers kept fighting. T They closed the lead to five with an opportunity to cut into it even further. The crowd of 11,478 was ready to explode, but the Huskers missed two shots at the rim and a three point attempt. That was as close as the Huskers would get as OSU would close out the game by hitting five straight free throws.
The Huskers saw three players get into double figures. The Huskers were led by 13 from David Rivers who played an instrumental role in the comeback attempt. Rivers poured in 11 second half points, including eight during the final push by the Huskers to get back into the game.
The Huskers matched Ohio State in nearly every statistical category. They made more field goals, were slightly out-rebounded, turned the ball over fewer times, had more steals and equal in assists as well. The one area the Huskers very clearly did not win was in the free throw category. Before Husker fans go and complain about the officiating, consider NU hoisted 26 three point attempts. That's more than double what OSU attempted. While they did make more 3's than the Buckeyes, they did not in proportion to how many more they attempted. If they had, perhaps this game ends differently. Instead, the Buckeyes attacked the rim more and were able to get to the free throw line 23 more times than the Huskers did. There's the difference in the game.
But in the end, it outcome was as many predicted. Ohio State left with the victory. Perhaps it was a closer margin later in the game than many had expected, but an OSU victory it remained. All joking aside, what did Coach Miles really think of this game?
"I call it a good learning experience to understand the mentality you need to play every night out. If we can capture that lesson maybe we can make a play the next time."
The next time for the Huskers will come in a week when they host the Penn State Nittany Lions. The Huskers and Lions have played once already. The Huskers won in Happy Valley 68-64 on Jan. 19. They'll look for the season sweep next Saturday night. Tip off is at 8 pm CT. Look for a photo gallery of tonight's game Sunday morning.