Indiana had a chance to break through against one of the Big Ten's top teams last week. It did not do so, falling in double-overtime at No. 8 Wisconsin, and now it has to hold serve against conference basement-dweller Nebraska.
“The Big Ten is a gauntlet, so we have to be on to the next game, we have to get ready for Nebraska,” a frustrated Al Durham said after the loss to the Badgers. “We can't dwell on a loss, we have to get the next one. We're only worried about now and going forward, getting a win at Nebraska.”
The Cornhuskers are in the second year of what figures to be a long building under former Chicago Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg and they are not yet an NCAA Tournament contender, having compiled a 4-7 overall record and an 0-4 mark in Big Ten play. Indiana (7-5, 2-3) is the first unranked team on Nebraska's league schedule.
The Huskers were further weakened this week by a bout of coronavirus. One undisclosed player tested positive and will be unavailable against Indiana. The positive test forced the postponement of Nebraska's game against Purdue on Tuesday, but further tests of the rest of the team came back negative and the Cornhuskers returned to practice Thursday. Hoiberg said he detected some “rust” after a couple days off.
“For two days we couldn't spend any time at all together,” the former Iowa State coach said. “Was that great? Probably not ideal. But I look at as an opportunity to freshen up and recharge their legs heading into this tough stretch.”
The Hoosiers could use an opportunity to recharge their legs after the loss to the Badgers. Forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, who had 23 points and 12 rebounds against Wisconsin, played 49 of the 50 minutes in Madison and was visibly fatigued in the second overtime period.
The Hoosiers are also shorthanded, likely facing Nebraska without second-leading scorer Armaan Franklin for the second straight game following an ankle injury against Maryland.
Indiana will need other players to step up, and they did so against Wisconsin.
“Our team has had to get more consistency from our veteran guys,” coach Archie Miller said. “I think that Rob (Phinisee), Al, Jerome (Hunter) are very, very important to the overall success of our team. ... I think the fact that our four freshmen can continue to play a role is only going to get greater. We're going to need more guys.
“We're gonna have to continue to play our bench, and we're gonna have to continue to ride with guys during the game that are doing a good job.”
Hunter, a talented redshirt sophomore who has struggled to find a consistent role, had his best game of the season at Wisconsin, scoring 12 points, making a pair of 3s and grabbing seven rebounds.
The Hoosiers also got their first significant contributions from freshman guard Anthony Leal, the 2020 Indiana Mr. Basketball. Leal hit three 3-pointers, including a go-ahead shot late in the second half and played solid defense.
“Anthony works his behind off,” Durham said. “He's one of the harder workers on the team. I'm not shocked about (his contributions). When I tell you he works his behind off, I really mean it. When you look up 'hard-worker,' it's him. I'm not surprised at how he played, it was coming in due time for him and I'm proud of him.”
The shooting Leal and Hunter provided opened up the floor for Jackson-Davis and Indiana made 13 of 16 shots during one torrid second-half stretch against the Badgers.
The Cornhuskers are led by junior forward Teddy Allen and his 18.2 points per game on 44% shooting. They get to the foul line a lot, but only make 66%.
Indiana at Nebraska
When: 6 p.m. today
Where: Pinnacle Bank Arena,
Records: Indiana (7-5, 2-3 Big Ten), Nebraska (4-7, 0-4)
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 92.3 FM