LINCOLN — Leading by just three points at halftime against Sacramento State, Nebraska coach Tim Miles used the first part of the second half as a teaching moment for his young squad.
Miles relied upon his veteran starters to carry the Huskers to an 83-61 season-opening win Sunday night at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
In the locker room during halftime, Miles told his newcomers to pay attention to how the top unit played together as an example of what he called “winning basketball.” The starters scored the first five points of the second half, and after eight minutes together, the Huskers’ lead ballooned to 58-44.
“They played rock solid and extended the lead,” Miles said about his starters’ second-half start. “We need those young guys out there and we need to get eight or nine guys playing,”
During the run, NU’s starting lineup of senior Tai Webster and sophomores Glynn Watson, Jack McVeigh, Ed Morrow and Michael Jacobson made 10 of 12 shots and both 3-point attempts. Webster, who scored 18 of his 20 points after intermission, led the way with eight points during the stretch.
Webster said the players took the challenge from Miles personally to step up in the second half.
“We were giving up too many open shots and too many second chances,” the senior guard said. “We didn’t really turn the ball over, but we weren’t aggressive with it either. We were letting the ball come to us and we need to be aggressive on offense.”
The starters finished with 74 points and shot a combined 68.5 percent from the field.
Glynn Watson led the Huskers with a career-high 23 points to go with six assists and five rebounds. The 6-foot point guard matched his previous best of 17 by halftime.
Miles said Watson was suffering a headache and they had to remove him a couple of times to keep him hydrated and give him medicine.
“If he can do that in that condition, he’s really good.” Miles said. “He’s a game-changer.”
Morrow also notched a career high with 15 points, while McVeigh added 14, including three 3-pointers.
Nebraska’s second unit, which consists of five newcomers, shot just 2 of 16 and finished with nine points and five turnovers. Miles said the poor showing was in contrast to their closed-door scrimmage against Iowa State, where the Huskers finished with approximately 40 bench points.
Miles said part of the issue is that the bench is not all up to speed yet. Isaiah Roby, Anton Gill and Jordy Tshimanga all missed preseason practice time because of injuries.
NU’s struggles were most evident in the first half as it made just 5 of 9 shots inside 4 feet.
“You can’t get an offensive rebound, puke on yourself and try to put it back in there,” Miles said. ”You have to have poise, balance and aggressiveness. It seemed like we were playing mindless basketball.”
Nebraska has a quick turnaround this week as it plays Tuesday against the University of Mary and then on Saturday faces Louisiana Tech. The tip times are set for 7 p.m.
“It’s really nice to finally get out there and play some competition,” Webster said. “We’ve been going at each other’s necks in practice for months, so it’s awesome to just to get out there and put all that work on someone else.”