The Huskers overcame a sluggish start to ride past the Southwest Minnesota State Mustangs 83-61 in exhibition play at Pinnacle Bank Arena Thursday evening.
There's a checklist most teams have when they host exhibition games, it goes something like this:
- Execute your offense and defense.
- Get some of the newcomers some action to get their feet wet in a big environment.
- Experiment with player combinations.
- Keep everyone healthy.
That's about it. So, how did they do?
Execution: Well, for the first 15 minutes or so, not that great. The Southwest Minnesota State offense got open looks and hit threes and before anyone knew what happened the Mustangs held a 15 point lead. The Huskers couldn't get anything to fall. They were able to close the margin to 34-30 at halftime and steamrolled them in the second half before pulling the starters for good. Is there a way to give a half a check mark? No for the first half, yes for he second. The Huskers got punched in the mouth and eventually turned on the jets.
Newcomers: Not really. This was the biggest surprise. The main six core players saw the bulk of the minutes. Newcomers Tarin Smith, Jacob Hammond, Moses Abraham and Nick Fuller saw 11, 7, 8, and 7 minutes respectively. The top six, except for Webster and Terran Petteway who saw 20 and 29 minutes, all saw more than 30 minutes on the court. That's not what you want to see in a game like this. Smith showed some flashes of being ready to contribute. No check here.
Combinations: See the above comment. The returners played a lot. Perhaps it was a product of the fact they found themselves in a game, but they didn't experiment much with players they haven't and likely won't play much with during the regular season. That may have been the game plan going in, but it would have been nice to see Smith, Hammond and Fuller most specifically get some more time under the bright lights. Can't put a checkmark here either.
Health: Well, this almost ended in a disaster. The team did end the game healthy, though there was a big scare when SWMS' Cole Martin contested a Shavon Shields layup and landed on top of him. Shields grabbed his knee in pain and limped off the court straight into the locker room, but he did return to the bench a short while later looking fine. So, the Huskers dodged that bullet but, ok, fine, we'll put a check in this column.
The Huskers looked like a team that hadn't played a game since March to start things off. They looked like they were playing with some weight of expectations and it was difficult to tell if they were trying to hard or if they weren't trying hard enough. The first 15 minutes were some ugly, ugly basketball. The Mustangs came out and played aggressively from the opening tip. They were so fired up to play this game, (and why wouldn't they be?) they went up for the opening tip a half second too early.
They were the aggressors and apparently, NU wasn't expecting a challenge. They turned the ball over, they took bad shots and missed easy ones. If it weren't for their ability to get to the free throw line, they might not have scored at all. Visibly frustrated, the Huskers woke up and were able to distance themselves from the outmanned Mustangs, outscoring them 74-39 the final 25:43 of the game. That's what most people expected to happen.
There were some highlights to take from this game. Tai Webster's shot looked much better. David Rivers looked more confident in his shot. Benny Parker did Benny Parker things. Smith had some nice moments including a nifty little pass, but really, there's not much to take away from this game, good or bad. Things count for real beginning a week from Sunday, the 16th when Northern Kentucky visits PBA to tip off the regular season at 1 PM.
Stick with Corn Nation over the next week as we have a ton of basketball coverage leading up to the start of the regular season.