Category Archives: Huskers News

Husker women’s first-half slump, Michigan’s hot-shooting offense doom NU in 84-51 loss

LINCOLN — A late first-half slump doomed the Nebraska women’s basketball team Sunday, as Michigan’s dynamic hot-shooting offense buried the Huskers 84-51 at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

NU was within 33-27 until the Wolverines, one of the league’s best 3-point shooting teams, finished the second quarter on a 12-2 run. Michigan made four straight 3-pointers — two from senior star Katelynn Flaherty and two from Nicole Munger. Munger’s last 3-pointer came at the buzzer. The Wolverines led 45-29 at halftime.

The Huskers (5-15 overall and 1-7 in the Big Ten) struggled with Michigan’s quick, trapping defense, committing 22 turnovers. Center Jessica Shepard — who torched Michigan for 35 points and 20 rebounds last season — was smothered Sunday, finishing with four points and six rebounds. She was slowed in the first half by two charging fouls. NU was led by freshman Nicea Eliely, who had 10 points and four steals.

Michigan (16-5 and 5-2) got 27 points from Flaherty, 17 from Munger and 13 from freshman guard Kysre Gondrezick. For the game, the Wolverines shot 57.4 percent from floor and hit 9-of-20 3-pointers.

Mike Riley, Nebraska moved swiftly to bring in new defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, then keep him in Lincoln

LINCOLN — Don’t let him leave the building.

As Nebraska coach Mike Riley had an instant, perfect click with Bob Diaco late last week, the prevailing mood among Husker staffers was that Riley, in a whirlwind, had found the man to take over NU’s defense. Their philosophies melded neatly. Riley was impressed by Diaco’s attention to detail. And both have near-encyclopedic memories for names, experiences and schemes in college football.

Diaco, it seemed, was the guy. So, as the Huskers’ brain trust tried to hammer out a deal, the word went out: Keep Diaco at North Stadium. Keep him in Lincoln.

If NU couldn’t?

“All bets are off,” Nebraska executive director of player personnel Billy Devaney said Thursday. “I’ve seen that movie before, whether you’re talking about a free agent. Or a coach. I’ve seen that way too many times.”

A former NFL general manager, Devaney had plenty of experience in those negotiations. He knew how they could go. And if Diaco had not left Lincoln with a deal already in place, he may have done all sorts of things. He may have signed a deal with Arkansas, which wanted him. He may have waited for another job. He may have even looked at rival Wisconsin, which lost its defensive coordinator, Justin Wilcox, when he became California’s head coach.

Diaco was supposed to return to Connecticut — he’d just been fired as Connecticut’s head coach in December — the following morning. In fact, Diaco was headed to Connecticut — after his interview with Arkansas — when, in a Chicago airport, he got a call from Riley, who wanted an immediate interview.

With just one suit and one pair of clothes on him, Diaco agreed to board a plane for Lincoln. Then he and Riley clicked so quickly — and so easily — that NU’s brass moved in to finish the deal.

So Riley asked Diaco, point blank: Stay a little longer. Let’s talk some more football.

Don’t let him leave the building.

Fortunately for Nebraska, Diaco — though in the same pair of socks a little longer than he wanted to be — agreed.

“We were talking football,” Diaco told The World-Herald Friday. “I didn’t want to leave. If that’s how they felt, then the feeling was mutual.”

The two-year, $1.7 million deal capped off a whirlwind week for Riley, his key advisors and Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst. The decision to pursue Diaco — the 2012 Frank Broyles Award winner as the nation’s best assistant — and then land him could be the turning point in Riley’s tenure. His 15-11 record thus far is decent, but below NU’s standards of competing for conference titles and a College Football Playoff berth. The Huskers’ defense — coordinated for two years by Mark Banker — had a similar, and arguably weaker, track record. In a matter of a few weeks, Riley went from retaining his coordinator for a 14th straight season to quickly dismissing him and getting the top name on the market.

“I wasn’t surprised by how quickly Coach Riley did it, but I was impressed,” said Riley’s right-hand man, director of football operations Dan Van De Riet.

***

Riley had been mulling how the Huskers might fit into a 3-4 defensive scheme well before he started looking for a defensive coordinator who had seasoning with it. He started thinking about it last season. He eyeballed a guy like defensive end Freedom Akinmoladun and wondered how he might fit as a base outside linebacker. Small things like that.

Banker had long been a 4-3 defensive coordinator. His scheme and defense held up well enough during the first half of the 2016 season but suffered a major swoon toward the end of the year.

“It’s easy — 62 points against Ohio State, 40 points against Iowa, and 38 in the bowl game,” Banker said last week. “Big plays. All those things. That’s what people don’t like.”

Riley watched film of NU’s 38-24 loss to Tennessee in the Music City Bowl. The Huskers had a whole month to prepare for the Volunteers’ offense. Even Banker conceded in an interview that it didn’t look like Nebraska had practiced much at all. His exotic blitzes didn’t get home. Two of his top young talents in the secondary — Antonio Reed and Lamar Jackson — got starts, but Reed left after 25 or so plays, while Jackson played out of sorts after serving as a reserve for most of the year.

“Some of the things we had earmarked that needed to be changed from a year ago were the same things I saw that we had issues with in the game,” Riley said. “That isn’t all of it. But it put a little bit of exclamation point on it.”

The decision not to renew Banker’s contract wasn’t made the day he was told Jan. 11, though. It was made days before.

“It wasn’t a brand-new thought as of (last) Wednesday,” Riley said. “There was a ton going on fast.”

That’s because Devaney said he spent time doing background work on potential replacements.

“It was an extremely tough decision but, once it was made, it was, OK, let’s move on this,” Devaney said. “Let’s get a list.”

Diaco, who had a sterling résumé as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator — and did well with Connecticut’s despite being fired as the Huskies’ head coach — jumped out almost immediately, Devaney said.

“I started making calls, talking to people who had touched Diaco during his career,” Devaney said. “And it was constant — the same picture kept coming back again and again. People I really trust in the business — that are in the NFL, that knew him at Notre Dame or while he was at Connecticut — it kept coming back: This guy’s really, really good.”

At that point, Nebraska’s brain trust had to ask itself: How many more references did Diaco really need? He was in demand by other schools — Arkansas was closing in.

“We kicked around a couple of other candidates, but it quickly became apparent — this is the guy,” Devaney said. “Let’s move on and not risk losing him to someone else.”

So the Huskers did move — quickly. Diaco interviewed at Arkansas — he said it went well — and was on his way home to Connecticut. Riley called Diaco and asked him to get off the plane.

“It was kind of like a recruiting trip,” Van De Riet said.

“He was ready to go,” Riley said. “He was ready to go.”

“I had one set of clothes,” Diaco said. “They said, ‘We don’t care. C’mon out. We want to talk football.’ I said, ‘OK, great,’ but I felt bad, so I actually changed in the bathroom at the Lincoln airport into my suit that I had on the afternoon before.”

Diaco said throughout his press conference Friday that he was impressed with lots of things about Nebraska — the facilities, the support, the commitment, Riley himself.

But there was still a contract to be done. Devaney and Riley said Eichorst worked that end of the process.

“Our leadership stepped up and got it done when he was still in the building,” Devaney said.

Riley echoed that sentiment about Eichorst. It’s a big change for Riley, who wouldn’t have had the kind of money at Oregon State to give a high-demand coordinator like Diaco.

“Shawn stepped up on this one big time when we explained the research we had done on this one and the qualities this guy brings,” Riley said. “And, as you guys know, the landscape out there for these top coordinators is pretty interesting right now. It’s what you’re going to need to do.”

Except that Nebraska has rarely done anything like it. Riley’s predecessor, Bo Pelini, never hired an outside coordinator so much as he promoted people already on his staff or retained Shawn Watson when he took the job. Pelini’s predecessor — Bill Callahan — had only defensive coordinator (Kevin Cosgrove), while his offensive coaches (Watson and Jay Norvell) were longtime friends.

Not since Pelini was hired — as defensive coordinator in 2003 — by Frank Solich has such an outside-the-box approach been taken. And unlike Solich — who plucked Pelini just as he was surfacing as a top defensive mind — Riley went after a known collegiate quality.

He got his man, too.

“Bob matches exactly our top needs to get better and better,” Riley said.

Huskers lose second straight in final second against Rutgers

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Nebraska men’s basketball now has a conference loss as head-shaking as its nonconference setback to Gardner-Webb.

The Huskers, for the second straight game Saturday, lost in the final second — this time 65-64 to Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights, on a seven-game skid, had lost 39 of their past 40 games against Big Ten opponents.

Nebraska had the ball and a one-point lead in the final 15 seconds. But senior guard and All-Big Ten candidate Tai Webster dribbled the ball off his foot to an RU defender. It was Webster’s second turnover in the final minute.

Rutgers called time with 9.8 seconds left and got the ball to guard Corey Sanders, who led all scorers with 25 points. Sanders drove to the left baseline and wildly missed a floating jumper.

But the 6-foot-1 sophomore tracked down his own miss on the other side of the basket and hit a layup with one second left.

“It was like rebounding an airball,” NU coach Tim Miles said on the Husker Sports Network. “It was an awkward shot. But they made the play.”

Just three days earlier, Nebraska allowed Ohio State to get a wide-open layup on an out-of-bounds play with 0.6 seconds left to lose 67-66.

The Huskers started Big Ten play 3-0, including road upsets of Indiana and Maryland. Now, they have lost four straight to fall to 9-10 overall and 3-4 in the league with a Thursday trip coming to Northwestern.

Miles said the frustration is evident.

“The only thing I’m worried about is we can’t let our guys hang their heads,” he said. “We’ve got to keep teaching and stay positive. Nobody feels positive right now after these last two.

“You’ve just got to stay with it. You can’t lose your way.”

Nebraska looked as if it would survive one of its worst 101⁄2-minute periods of basketball in many years to pull out a victory.

After freshmen center Jordy Tshimanga made a basket with 10:25 to go in the first half for a 17-13 lead, NU missed its final 17 shots of the half. The only points in that stretch were four free throws, which helped hold Rutgers’ halftime lead to 31-21.

What led to such a gruesome stretch?

“We scored 17 points on our first 16 possessions,” Miles said. “So we’re fine. Then, our two freshmen come in (Jeriah Horne, Isaiah Roby) and play 10 minutes of the first half and they have five turnovers.

“That’s bad news. And we took too many 3s. And we had 10 offensive rebounds at halftime and no second-chance points.”

Nebraska, after scoring 21 points the first half, scored 30 in the first 11 minutes of the second half to take a 51-44 lead. Sophomore guard Glynn Watson had 10 of his 12 points in that stretch, while Webster had five of his team-high 14.

Rutgers rallied to take a 57-55 lead with 3:33 left on Sanders’ breakaway layup. But Husker forward Jack McVeigh hit 3-pointers with 3:13, 2:14 and 1:29 left to put NU up 64-59.

From there, Webster committed two turnovers and NU missed two shots while giving up six points.

“Bad timing for playing loose with the ball,” Miles said.

The Huskers had 11 shots blocked, and were outscored in fast-break points 19-2 and in the paint 32-22. Rutgers entered the game 27th nationally in field goal defense at 39.4 percent and held Nebraska to 34.8 percent.

D’s in his DNA: Bob Diaco relishes return to coordinator role; Mike Riley praises passion, scheme

LINCOLN — Things didn’t work out the way Bob Diaco had hoped at Connecticut, and word came Dec. 26 that he was out after three seasons as head coach.

Diaco almost immediately knew what he wanted to happen next.

“Professionally, I felt very good about having an opportunity to coach defensive football, and to lead a defense and coordinate a defense at a high level,” Diaco said Friday. “I love doing that.

“If there was any liability and issue with being a head coach, it was being pulled away from the thing that you love the most, which is teaching and building an intimate relationship with either the unit or a position, because that bond is so special and fun to do and cultivate and grow.”

Arkansas and Nebraska were among those to come calling, and NU moved swiftly to land the 43-year-old former Notre Dame defensive coordinator who was named the 2012 winner of the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant.

Nebraska coach Mike Riley turned to Diaco after deciding to part ways with longtime coordinator Mark Banker, and Riley and Diaco appeared at an introductory press conference Friday to discuss the last 10 days and the future of the Husker defense.

“We are excited about Bob,” Riley said. “I think that his past is well-documented as a football coach.

“I really had a lot of fun visiting with him when he was here — talking about and listening to him talk about football, and his system.”

That system is a 3-4 scheme, something Riley said he had been thinking about for a long time, even as far back as his days coaching Oregon State. Both Riley and Diaco said they think the current Husker personnel will fit the 3-4, but Diaco said there also is plenty of flexibility with his system.

Diaco, a New Jersey native who became a linebacker and graduate assistant at Iowa, served as defensive coordinator for Brian Kelly at Cincinnati and Notre Dame before taking the head coaching job at Connecticut in 2014.

It was a great experience, he said. He learned a million things, and embraced the opportunity to manage and lead a program.

Now, however, he’s ready to leave those things to Riley and focus on fixing a Husker defense that improved from 2015 to  ’16, but not enough to get Banker a third season at NU.

Diaco said he had interviewed at Arkansas last week when the first contact came from Nebraska. Diaco was headed for Chicago, where he would have a layover, and was asked if he would consider being re-routed to Lincoln.

Diaco said absolutely, but relayed that he was not dressed for a formal interview, wearing a sweatshirt and jeans, with the suit that he had worn in Fayetteville slung over his shoulder.

“I had one set of clothes,” Diaco said. “They said, ‘We don’t care. C’mon out. We want to talk football.’ I said, ‘OK, great,’ but I felt bad, so I actually changed in the bathroom at the Lincoln airport into my suit that I had on the afternoon before.”

Diaco wore black slacks and a red Husker pullover Friday, but gave media members a taste of what he hit Riley with the week before.

He said his family would probably call him obsessive-compulsive, then joked that he felt compelled to straighten out the dozen or so tape recorders and microphones that sat in front of him.

Diaco said he already loves his Nebraska players, though he was just starting to meet a few, “because they’re the young men that we’ve been entrusted with, and it’s already inherent in how I feel.”

His teaching is detailed, players are held accountable and he can be intense, but Diaco said that is carried out in a positive manner.

“We don’t tear people down,” he said. “There’s no profanity in the teaching. There’s no emasculating in the teaching. It’s uplifting. It’s building up, it’s positive … and young men flourish in that type of environment.”

And he loves football and what he does.

“I don’t need to read some kind of motivational quote to get out of bed every morning,” Diaco said. “I mean, I am on fire when my feet hit the floor.”

Diaco traced his roots in the 3-4 to the Bill Parcells coaching tree. Diaco worked from 2006 to  ’08 at Virginia under Al Groh, who had been an assistant to Parcells with the New York Giants. Diaco called it an education in the 3-4 and in teaching.

Under Kelly at Central Michigan, Diaco had installed a 4-2-5, which Diaco credited to TCU coach Gary Patterson and his background.

From there came the defense constructed by Diaco that helped take Notre Dame to the 2012 national championship game.

“You wouldn’t ever realize, unless you had both, how well they mend together,” Diaco said. “So I just started putting pen to paper, and we created a system, which begins with the fundamental teaching and ideology of the 3-4.”

Before Nebraska gets to the field for spring practice, Diaco will have to teach everything to a staff. It will become the Huskers’ defense, he said, not his.

“To be in this role, to have the opportunity to lead the Blackshirt defense, is an awesome responsibility, one that I am incredibly excited about,” he said.

Diaco made a recruiting visit to Nebraska before signing with Iowa, where he was an All-Big Ten linebacker in 1994 and  ’95. Diaco noted that the Huskers did fine without him, winning a pair of national championships.

But he said he understands the Husker tradition, knows the Big Ten and Midwest, and heaped praise on Riley for his place in the coaching world and on Nebraska for a smooth and seamless transition.

Diaco is ready to get back to what he feels most comfortable doing, which was his hope when he tried to find the positives after news broke the day after Christmas that his first stint as a head coach was over.

Aside from some anxiousness about the job market — and dealing with the family and personal stuff that went with leaving UConn — Diaco had few other doubts that he wanted to be a coordinator again.

“I felt very good about it,” he said. “I felt very good about wanting to do that, like I was so excited to get back to some of the work that I absolutely love to do.”

Riley was brief in his remarks Friday before turning it over to Diaco, who gave a glimpse into the standards and philosophy that would be coming to the Blackshirts.

“You don’t play on the defense. You become a defender,” he said. “And a defender is not something that is turned on and off. When you are doing this the right way, you become a defender 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And you’re going to become a defender the rest of your life — and you’re going to defend your family, and you’re going to defend your community and you’re going to defend the mission of the organization that you serve.

“And that never shuts off. And that culture and that mentality and that ideology … it’s very important that we embed into the defensive players’ DNA.”

Mike Riley: Bowl game clinched former Husker defensive coordinator Mark Banker’s dismissal

LINCOLN — Coach Mike Riley had been chewing on changing the Huskers’ defensive scheme from a 4-3 to a 3-4 even during last season. He’d envisioned certain players at different positions. Riley, a former defensive coordinator himself, liked the 3-4 scheme from his small-college and CFL days.

Riley’s longtime coordinator, Mark Banker, was a 4-3 guy. Riley’s new coordinator, Bob Diaco, is so seasoned in the 3-4 that he laid out, in great but not overwhelming detail, its particulars in Friday’s press conference.

Riley chose not to renew Banker’s contract after watching film of the Huskers’ 38-24 loss to Tennessee in the Music City Bowl. In the game, NU gave up 521 yards and several long plays. Vol pass catchers dropped what would have been two certain long touchdowns, as well.

“I decided after watching film of the game,” Riley said. “You can imagine how hard that was for me with the relationship with Mark over time. … I just thought this change would be good.”

What did Riley see?

“Some of the things we had earmarked that needed to be changed from a year ago were the same things I saw that we had issues with in the game,” Riley said. “That isn’t all of it. But it put a little bit of an exclamation point on it.”

Riley fired Banker over the phone on Jan. 11. He has not talked to Banker since, but he’s aware Banker isn’t happy about how he was let go. Banker told The World-Herald he was “disappointed” that after so many years working together, Riley couldn’t tell Banker in person.

“I understand that, and I can understand why he is,” Riley said of Banker’s reaction. “That is not the way I would have liked to have done it. I ran into a logistical problem. You guys can probably figure it out, just the timing of everything. To get done what we did, I had to do it.”

To land Diaco, Riley said, he had to move quickly. They had first contact last Wednesday — the same day Riley fired Banker.

It was better to let go of Banker now, Riley said, than drag out the process and not get Diaco.

“I just wanted to get the very best coordinator, and we would adjust with the recruiting,” Riley said. “And I think we’ve done that fine, to this point.”

When Riley talked to reporters Friday afternoon, he’d been in Lincoln for 90 minutes. Diaco had yet to hit the road recruiting, but told reporters he was willing to help the Huskers in any way he could.

Riley and Diaco appear ready to wait to hire a new safeties coach until after signing day, however. Riley said he and his new defensive coordinator will be “gathering names” for the last assistant coaching position — Riley confirmed he’d hire another defensive backs coach — but hold off on doing interviews until recruiting is complete.

“We’ve got to do this next job a lot of justice by taking the time with it,” Riley said. “We can gather the names and do some research as we are finishing up recruiting.”

More topics from the Riley-Diaco duet:

» The Huskers have a new walk-on quarterback: Andrew Bunch, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound signal caller from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College. Riley confirmed Bunch’s addition to the team, adding that the Huskers got the top player on their quarterback walk-on board. Bunch’s father was a former Husker walk-on.

A 2016 graduate of Thompson’s Station (Tenn.) Independence High, Bunch is a full qualifier and will have four years to play three seasons at Nebraska.

“We ran into that at the end with some issues with the depth at that position,” Riley said, referring to having to recall Zack Darlington from wideout to play emergency quarterback at the end of the Music City Bowl. “We wanted to add a walk-on quarterback. He was actually the first guy we reached out to. It will be good for our depth, and our room is just the right size. I don’t want any bigger, but as we found out, we can’t have it any smaller, either.”

» While Darlington will return to wideout and continue as the Huskers’ holder, Riley wants to explore a zone-read package for Darlington where he can function as a passing Wildcat quarterback.

“Some of the zone-read stuff we have done for two years, we could do that,” Riley said.

» One reason Riley likes the 3-4 scheme is the versatility of pass rushes.

“That fourth rusher deal is not a small deal, when you’re talking about how you’re going to pick that guy up,” Riley said. “If you have to use that back on him, then your back doesn’t get in the pattern. All those progressions you talk about with your quarterback — ‘look here, here, check it to the back’ — well, he’s not always there. There’s issues in a 3-4 like that that are continually out there.”

Riley also thinks Nebraska can better recruit linebackers to fit a 3-4 than find the right defensive linemen for a 4-3.

“The recruitment of more linebackers, athletes — I think it’s actually easier to find those guys than four defensive linemen,” Riley said. “It adds more athletes to your team. When you look at kickoff team, punt team — all the special teams, you’ll end up with more guys who are in that 6-2, 210-to-245 range that can do lots of stuff for you.”

» Diaco was clear with reporters about the kind of culture he wants to create on NU’s defense. He employed metaphors, illustrations and similes to do so.

Players will be reminded of the scorpion/frog story, in which a frog trusts a scorpion too fully and is stung because it’s in the nature of the scorpion to do so.

“The scorpion and the frog fable is an important lesson to understand,” Diaco said. “The nature of your behaviors and the profile you create, we’re going to have to believe. I’m not going to say ‘get on my back; I’ll swim you across the lake’ to the scorpion, because halfway across you get stung.”

Diaco said he wants players with a “body of work” of accountability.

» Diaco and his defenses pride themselves on being strong in the red zone. NU defenders have to be “excited” in “sudden-change” situations to do something that is “spectacularly challenging.”

“When the ball gets down in the red zone — the high red, the low red, the tight red — it’s to our advantage,” Diaco said. “And it needs to be viewed that way. Just because we’re closer doesn’t mean we’re at a disadvantage. It’s our advantage. The passing game is completely different, the run game is completely different. They can do a lot less.”

» Diaco, a former linebacker and linebacker coach, will coach the linebackers with position coach Trent Bray, Riley said. Diaco explained that, on the field, the inside and outside linebackers’ roles are different enough that the players spend at least part of practices working on different techniques. Diaco wants all the linebackers together in the film room, however.

» Nebraska hosted Diaco on an official visit in the early 1990s. Frank Solich was the recruiter for Diaco. NU recruited him as a fullback, while Iowa wanted him as a linebacker. Diaco picked the Hawkeyes in what he called a “coin flip” decision.

» While at Iowa, Diaco said, he knew former Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, who was a graduate assistant at Iowa for one year.

“He was a good teacher then,” Diaco said, “and he’s a good teacher now.”

Penn State women pull away from Huskers in second half

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The Penn State women used a 15-2 run midway through the second half to pull away to an 86-69 win over Nebraska Thursday night.

The game was tied 50-50 after Nebraska freshman Rylie Cascio Jensen hit a 3-pointer with 3:42 left in the third quarter. But the Nittany Lions scored the next nine points and extended the lead to 65-52 early in the fourth quarter.

Jessica Shepard led Nebraska with 20 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out midway through the fourth quarter. Cascio Jensen added a career-high 15 points.

Nebraska (5-14), which returns home to play Michigan on Sunday, has lost seven of its last eight.

Buckeyes win after Glynn Watson falls, but NU’s third straight loss isn’t just about ending

LINCOLN — That one will leave a mark. A big mark.

A Nebraska men’s basketball team that had prided itself on toughness the last month got pushed out of its element at home Wednesday night in the second half and fell to Ohio State 67-66.

The final shove came with less than a full second to go, leaving a Pinnacle Bank Arena crowd of 13,842 gasping.

The Buckeyes, inbounding the ball from under their own basket with 1.7 seconds to go, found forward Marc Loving wide-open in the lane for a layup with 0.6 left. Loving got loose when Husker guard Glynn Watson slipped to the floor in the midst of a defensive switch.

The loss was the third straight for NU (9-9, 3-3) and the second in three Big Ten games at home.

“That one definitely stings,” Husker forward Michael Jacobson said he told the team’s postgame huddle. “I felt we had control of the game the entire first half, and maybe had some chances to put them away.

“To come back and play that bad in the second half and end up with an L, especially in a tight conference this year … I know it hurts.”

Failure didn’t look like an option late in the first half as Nebraska opened 12-point leads twice and still led 40-32 at halftime despite heavy foul trouble to its big-man rotation.

In the second half, it looked like the Huskers were running in snowshoes.

“If you can get past the emotion of the last-second play,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said, “let’s look at our body of work.”

NU shot 50 percent the first half, forced 11 turnovers, had assists on half of its 18 baskets and outscored OSU in the paint 20-8.

“We built a lead, kept a lead and played a very steady defensive game,” Miles said. “Then you come out the second half and we got seven field goals and they got 17. They got us 30-10 in the paint. And we don’t force a turnover.”

Miles said he called time with about eight minutes left to ask his players why they weren’t running. The offensive pace had slammed into park, and the Huskers were settling for out-of-system jump shots.

Ohio State took the lead at 53-52 — its first since the score was 9-7 — on center Trevor Thompson’s dunk with 8:41 to go. OSU eventually got up by four points before Nebraska had a chance to regain control.

But freshman center Jordy Tshimanga missed two free throws with 3:58 to play. After Tai Webster nailed a 3 to bring NU within 63-62, Tshimanga missed a layup on a feed from Webster. Then Watson, held to 10 points, missed two free throws with 2:03 left.

Ohio State in that time went empty on four straight possessions.

“We should have had a three-, four- or five-point lead by the time we finally took the lead,” Miles said.

Nebraska did go back in front 66-65 with 34 seconds left on Webster’s right-handed baseline drive that turned into a left-handed scoop shot in the lane. The senior guard led all scorers with 18 points. He had 11 of NU’s 26 second-half points.

Then came the final possession for Ohio State (12-7, 2-4).

Loving fired a deep 3 from the corner with four seconds left. It missed, but OSU corralled the rebound and called time with 1.7 seconds left. The inbounds play that followed decided the game.

“It’s about time something good happened,” said OSU coach Thad Matta, who saw his team win a second straight after opening league play 0-4.

Miles said Nebraska needs to continue to adjust to playing without starting center Ed Morrow, who remains out indefinitely with a foot injury. The Huskers got outrebounded 45-37.

“We had a lot of young mistakes,” Miles said. “A lot of freshmen and sophomores making them. I guess you learn by putting your hand on the burner, and that’s what we did tonight, and we got burned.”

Notes

» Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland is officially a Husker, having been cleared by the NU compliance office. The 6-foot-9, 220-pound junior was on the bench Wednesday night. He will wear No. 14 when he’s eligible for competition, which could be in August or late December.

Nebraska lands coveted 2018 athlete Eric Fuller, sets sights on teammates Joseph Lewis, Greg Johnson

LINCOLN — Nebraska received a coveted commitment Wednesday from one of Los Angeles’ top talent hubs — for next year’s recruiting class.

NU wouldn’t mind getting a few commits for the 2017 cycle from Los Angeles Hawkins High. For now, the Huskers have a consensus four-star athlete — cornerback/wideout Eric Fuller — in the fold for next season. The 5-foot-10, 160-pound Fuller announced on Twitter on Wednesday that he’d committed to Nebraska a full year before he can sign with the school. A top 100 prospect according to Scout and the nation’s No. 116 prospect for 2018 according to 247Sports Composite service, Fuller had offers from USC, UCLA, Oklahoma and Michigan, among others.

Fuller is a prep teammate of Nebraska’s two top 2017 targets — top 100 prospects Joseph Lewis and Greg Johnson. Those two have essentially narrowed their decisions to USC and Nebraska.

At Hawkins, Fuller faced the five-star wideout Lewis often, coach Mil’Von James said. Fuller held his own, too.

“It was like an elite 7-on-7 camp,” James said. “Our practices were harder than most of our games.”

Fuller spent two seasons at Paramount High — just north of Long Beach — then transferred to Hawkins before last season. Fuller caught 20 passes for 485 yards and had three interceptions. James said he put Fuller “on an island” and told him to shut down one side of the field. Over the course of the season, James said, Fuller might have given up “three or four catches.”

“He’s physical enough that he can take on taller wide receivers, and he’s quick to cover the smaller guys,” James said. “And he’ll stick his nose in there and tackle, too.”

James said Fuller is one of the fastest players in California.

“He runs a 4.4-second flat 40,” James said. “And he’s only getting faster.”

Nebraska assistants Keith Williams and Donte Williams played key roles in landing Fuller. James said Keith Williams had the majority of the contact with Fuller, who can play either receiver or cornerback in college.

Now, the Huskers will continue with their full-court press on Hawkins teammates Johnson and Lewis.

NU coaches can’t comment on specific prospects, but the target number for signees in the class is 22. Billy Devaney, NU’s executive director of player personnel, said Wednesday that number is “fluid” and Nebraska can make room for top-end prospects who want in the class.

Lewis and Johnson fit the bill.

James said to ignore recruiting scuttlebutt that Lewis is a USC lock. He isn’t, James said. Lewis and Keith Williams talk “all the time.”

“It’s a lot closer than people think,” James said. “It’s going to go down to the wire.”

Nebraska set for battle with Iowa, LSU over tight end recruit Kurt Rafdal

LINCOLN — Nebraska and Iowa — and possibly an SEC school — will square off for a tall, sure-handed tight end in the final weeks before signing day.

Kurt Rafdal, a 6-foot-7, 240-pound prospect from Carmel, Indiana, took his official visit to NU last weekend. This weekend, he heads to Iowa. And now, with a surprise offer from LSU on the table, the all-state tight end has a lot to chew on.

The Huskers have made their case well, said Kurt Rafdal’s father, Jim. The visit to Nebraska, he said, went “really well.”

“The completeness of the program — all the tools they offer — is impressive,” Jim Rafdal said. NU coach Mike Riley, tight ends coach Tavita Thompson and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf were central in the visit.

“They talked a lot about the offense,” Jim Rafdal said. Langsdorf showed Kurt plays from Oregon State’s offense, which featured more pass-catching tight ends than Nebraska has in Riley’s first two years. NU will be transitioning to a pro-style offense after spending two seasons in a spread/pro-style hybrid to accommodate the skills of quarterback Tommy Armstrong.

Rafdal played tight end, H-back and receiver for Carmel, which won Indiana’s 6A state title.

Jim Rafdal said Riley has “done a good job” of putting Nebraska in position to compete for several years to come. Early playing time could also be a plus for Kurt at NU, whose top three tight ends — Cethan Carter, Sam Cotton and Trey Foster — were seniors in the fall.

Next up is the trip to Iowa, which “has a history of using tight ends,” Rafdal said.

“They’ve been running that offense for years,” Rafdal said. “I don’t think they’ll be changing it.”

Afterward, the family will look at LSU, where new offensive coordinator Matt Canada extended an offer to Kurt after coming from Pittsburgh, which had also recruited Kurt.

“When you get an offer like LSU, you can’t just blow it off. You have to consider it,” Jim Rafdal said. “They have a bunch of four- and-five-star recruits, and they could be in position to be among the top four (in the College Football Playoff) right away.”

Still, the family isn’t sure it’ll take an official visit to LSU.

Rafdal decommitted from Indiana in early January after the Hoosiers fired coach Kevin Wilson. Rafdal had committed to Indiana in October. Jim Rafdal said the family was finished with the recruiting process until Wilson’s departure.

The family was interested in NU before picking the Hoosiers, but Nebraska already had commitments from two tight ends — Aurora’s Austin Allen and Reese Leitao of Jenks, Oklahoma, who has since flipped to Texas.

Notes

» One Husker target, Muskogee (Okla.) safety Kamren Curl, will announce his decision Thursday. Curl is down to several schools — NU is among them — that includes Arkansas, TCU, Oklahoma and Baylor.

» Before Curl announced Thursday, Nebraska officially extended a scholarship offer —then visited in person — Temecula (Calif.) Chaparral High School athlete Michael Onyemaobi, who decommitted from California shortly after meeting with Riley and NU defensive backs coach Donte Williams. Onyemaobi, 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, is a consensus three-star prospect.

“He’s a great leader,” Chaparral coach Jerry McCullough told The World-Herald. “He’s just one of those guys who kind of ‘gets it’ in the huddle.” Onyemaobi has a Jan. 27 official visit set up for NU. Other suitors include Washington State and Iowa State. McCullough said Onyemaobi is most concerned about having a good relationship with the position coach.

Bryan Reimers among six Husker walk-ons hauling in scholarships for spring semester

LINCOLN — Bryan Reimers had one of the biggest catches during Nebraska’s best nonconference win last season, hauling in a 22-yard touchdown throw from Tommy Armstrong for the Huskers’ first lead against Oregon.

The Lincoln East graduate did enough during his sophomore season to earn a shot at a larger role in 2017.

The bonus is that Reimers has been put on scholarship for the spring semester, along with fellow in-state walk-ons Luke McNitt, Austin Rose, Connor Ketter, Tyler Hoppes and Cole Conrad. Nebraska confirmed the moves Wednesday. The NU spring semester started last week.

Reimers had two receptions in the Music City Bowl to finish the season with five for 75 yards. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound sophomore took advantage of opportunities through the season as seniors Alonzo Moore, Brandon Reilly and Jordan Westerkamp battled injuries.

His introduction came against Oregon, when his touchdown pushed the Huskers ahead 21-20 in the third quarter.

“Coming in, I thought maybe it’d take three or four years for it to all come around, but it’s coming around fast,” Reimers said after that game. “And I give credit to Coach Dub (assistant Keith Williams) and all he’s done for me. He’s really helped me out tremendously and made me the way I am today and a much better ballplayer.”

McNitt was a regular contributor through his junior season, playing fullback and carrying a heavy load on special teams. McNitt finished with 10 tackles, and he recovered a muffed punt at Ohio State.

The Kearney native and transfer from UNK also handled the only two fullback carries of the season as the replacement for 2015 star Andy Janovich.

Last month, McNitt was named the Huskers’ lifter of the year at the annual NU football banquet.

“I’m extremely honored and blessed to receive a scholarship from this great university,” he wrote on Twitter. “But I’ll never forget where I come from… #WalkOnU”

Rose, a sophomore from Lincoln North Star, was a reserve I-back in the fall.

Conrad, a sophomore offensive lineman from Fremont Bergan, started the last five games of the season after taking over at right tackle.

Ketter is a junior tight end from Norfolk.

Hoppes, a junior tight end from Lincoln, came to Nebraska in 2014 after a year at Wayne State.

After the Husker newcomers report, NU generally announces during preseason practices which players will go on scholarship for the fall semester. Last season it was seniors Brad Simpson, Graham Nabity and Logan Rath.