LINCOLN — So many people wanted to leave, so many would’ve rather walked into the negative-10-degree wind chill than watch another second, that there wasn’t room left on Pinnacle Bank Arena’s newly laid red carpet.
So the Nebraska fans stood in a throng next to the court in silence, logjammed, forced to stare at the wheels falling off.
Wisconsin missed a layup. NU freshman Amir Harris dribbled past half court. The buzzer sounded, calling Tuesday night’s fight at 62-51 in No. 24 Wisconsin’s favor. Boos punched out from atop the arena. And the congregation slugged toward the tunnel in a daze that the home team, the one that was supposed to be so good, lost for the sixth time in eight games.
“It’s kinda like we’re starting over,” Isaiah Roby said of Nebraska’s first game since losing starting forward Isaac Copeland for the year. “It’s kind of like a start of a season.”
And in this new season, the Huskers are a completely different team. A team that shoots 28 percent at home, a season low, and scores 21 points in the first half, another season low.
The Huskers held Wisconsin forward Ethan Happ, a future All-American, to 10 points. Nebraska outrebounded the Badgers by eight. But James Palmer, Roby and Glynn Watson shot a combined 12 for 42. Nebraska’s bench scored three points.
And the Huskers are now 13-8 on the season, 3-7 in conference play, and a team with few answers.
“We have to stay positive,” coach Tim Miles said.
Wisconsin jumped out to a 23-9 lead. But Nebraska countered with a 23-9 run itself to tie the game at 32 with 15:38 left.
Nebraska proceeded to shoot 6 for 24, 25 percent, the rest of the game. Most shots came from outside the lane. Wisconsin was 11 for 23 in that span. Brad Davison was the killer, scoring eight straight points to put the game out of reach in the final 10 minutes.
Nebraska had no counter.
Without Copeland, Nebraska is forced to reinvent itself. And it had to try to do so just three days after the Ohio State loss.
“That’s hard,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “It’ll take probably a little bit of time to adjust just for them.”
Amid this adjustment, Miles seeks silver linings. He thought his guys fought harder than in recent games. He liked how Thorir Thorbjarnarson played. The sophomore from Iceland scored three points with 10 rebounds in 17 minutes off the bench. Roby bothered Happ all night and scored 18 with nine rebounds.
But Nebraska sorely missed Copeland’s production. In Tanner Borchardt’s first start of the season, he scored one point with six rebounds and five fouls. Freshman Brady Heiman didn’t score and grabbed two rebounds in 11 minutes. Nana Akenten was 0 for 4 with two rebounds in seven minutes. Harris didn’t score and had one rebound in seven minutes.
“It was different. It was really different. You’re running lineups out there and you’re like, ‘OK, this will be interesting,’” Miles said. “That’s the discovery process, though. You have to go through that for those guys to gain the confidence.”
With the 11-2 start and rise into the AP Top 25, Nebraska was once projected to be a high seed in the NCAA tournament — to finish in the top half of the Big Ten and eradicate the shame of being the last Power Five school to never win an NCAA tournament game.
Miles hasn’t given up on that dream.
“You’re never fully out of time. You can always make a run,” he said. “We’re not out of time.”
But halfway through the conference season, the clock does seem to be ticking.