PISCATAWAY, N.J. — In the span of about three minutes, Nebraska’s entire season changed.
Back to back 3-pointers from Isaac Copeland and Glynn Watson gave the Huskers a comfortable 31-18 lead late in the first half on the road against Rutgers.
But in the span of the next 2:41, Nebraska completely collapsed. Isaiah Roby turned the ball over, then Watson, then Copeland. Meanwhile, they lost track of Rutgers star Geo Baker on the other end, couldn’t stay with Montez Mathis at the 3-point line.
And in the time of a pop song, the 13-point lead vanished after 15 straight points from Rutgers.
From there, Nebraska was forced to grind it out on the road. It did not go well, and the Huskers dropped their second straight game Monday night, falling at Rutgers 76-69.
“I was disappointed with our mentality coming into the game,” coach Tim Miles said on the radio postgame. “In this league, it doesn’t matter who you play or where you play, you just have to prepare yourself for a fight every night out.”
Rutgers, now 2-6 in conference play and 9-9 on the season, was led by Mathis, who averages about eight points a game. He put up 20 on the Huskers with nine rebounds. Baker scored 16 points in 38 minutes.
James Palmer scored a team-high 22 points in 40 minutes. Copeland scored 16 and hauled in eight rebounds. Watson had 14 with five assists.
For the final 25 minutes, there wasn’t a ton of fight from the Huskers, who turned it over 12 times, shot 9 of 22 from 3-point range and were outrebounded by 10.
In a generally sloppy game full of runs for both teams, Nebraska found no consistent play and could not string together enough stops on the defensive end to build a lead. NU shot 10 of 18 from the foul line.
Nebraska has now lost four of its past six games and is 13-6 on the season.
“In the pregame locker room there was talking, joking around a little bit, and I thought that set the tone how we played,” Miles said.
Both of Nebraska’s first shots were way off, missing the rim entirely. But Rutgers turned the ball over 13 times in the first half, which led to points in fast break for the Huskers. A coast-to-coast bucket from Nana Akenten started an 11-2 run, which was punctuated by the back-to-back 3-pointers.
Those put Nebraska up 31-18. But that quickly turned into 33-31 in Rutgers’ favor.
“I don’t know if it was our attention to detail or mentality or mindset,” Miles said. “And it’s a little bit of everybody. There’s not just one guy out there just screwing it up.”
A 30-footer from Palmer at the buzzer gave Nebraska a 38-33 lead at the break. But two quick turnovers in the second half erased that lead, too. An 8-0 run from Rutgers forced Nebraska to play from behind for the rest of the game.
Baker scored 13 of his 16 points in the second half. Rutgers cut down on the turnovers, just two in the second, and forced Nebraska to make shots.
The Huskers were 10 of 28 from the floor in the second. And with each missed shot, they forced everything a little more on the next trip. And when Nebraska got to the line, it didn’t capitalize.
On the final play of the game, Mathis missed a free throw. With four Huskers in the lane, Mathis rebounded his own miss and dribbled out the clock in Nebraska’s worst loss of the season, which now puts it in a bind for the rest of the season.
“I want to see us play harder, I want to see us play sharper, I want to see us more focused on little things. And I think when we take care of that, we clean ourselves up, we come out prepared for a battle, good things will happen,” Miles said. “The very, very end where they miss a free throw and they got nobody on the line and the shooter gets it back, those are just, ‘What are you thinking about out there?’ And that’s where our mentality and our focus and our commitment to the fundamentals just have to get better.”