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Huskers Put Win Streak On Line Against Spartans

Huskers Put Win Streak On Line Against Spartans
Courrtesy/NU Media Relations

Simply put, an 8-8 record inside Pinnacle Bank Arena wasn’t acceptable in the eyes of Tim Miles.

The Nebraska men’s basketball team had christened their new home court in 2013-14 with a 15-1 record, and after tailing off to 10 home victories in each of the next two seasons, managed only eight homes wins in 2016-17.

“One of the things was, ‘Listen, we need to find an edge back at Pinnacle Bank Arena, get it to where it belongs,’ ” Miles said. “The guys have really responded to that. It’s meaningful this group has played well at home.”

The turnaround began last season, when Nebraska came within a last-second shot against Kansas of going undefeated at home. But even after the Jayhawks escaped with a 73-72 victory on Dec. 16, 2017, the Huskers regrouped.

They haven’t lost at home since.

Nebraska now carries a 20-game home winning streak, equaling the longest in program history, into Thursday night’s game against No. 6 Michigan State at sold out Pinnacle Bank Arena.

“A 20-game winning streak,” Nebraska junior forward Isaiah Roby said, “that’s big time, no matter what the common denominator is.”

For Nebraska, that happens to be a vibrant home crowd that’s sold out Pinnacle Bank Arena of season tickets and made the venue a true home-court advantage.

Roby, of course, didn’t play in the famous “No-Sit Sunday” game against Wisconsin to close the first season of Pinnacle Bank Arena, so for him, this season’s 94-75 victory over in-state rival Creighton, which some will say rivaled the aforementioned Wisconsin game, is his most memorable, favorite home game.

“But I could see this one challenging for that,” Roby said of Thursday’s game against the Spartans. “I know the fans will come out and be crazy like always. I can’t wait to get out there.”

Neither can Miles, who’s been emphatic in his praise of Nebraska fans filling Pinnacle Bank Arena.

“Our fans have been really good,” Miles said. “The environment and noise, from game management all the way down, to create an energy level I think is really important. Certainly, it’s the chicken and the egg. You need a good team, but our fans have been really, really responsive. That’s given the guys confidence, and sometimes when maybe they’re a little tired, it’s given them a little boost of energy.”

Nebraska, with the help of lopsided margins of 69, 52 and 41 points this season, has an average margin of victory of 19.3 points during its current home-court winning streak. In Big Ten play, the margin average is 9.7 points, with the closest call a one-point victory last season against Illinois, thanks to a late shot by James Palmer Jr.

Yet Miles, who hopes for a standing-room only crowd, says Nebraska can’t be overconfident playing at home, especially against Michigan State.

“We can’t assume that just because we’re at home, it’s going to go well for us,” Miles said. “You’ve got to keep earning that. We’re excited to keep the guys here and play well in front of our fans, but at the same time. I don’t think we’re taking anything for granted.”

Michigan State (15-2, 6-0 Big Ten Conference) has its own streak on the line. The Spartans have won 18 straight regular-season Big Ten games, which ties a school record. Overall, MSU has won 10 straight games.

“I don’t think there’s another game in the country like this for this week,” Miles said. “It’s a pretty remarkable run by both teams, and one of them is going to end.”

Nebraska is an underdog, and Miles is OK with that. In fact, he’s embracing it against a Michigan State team that’s averaging a Big Ten-best 85.5 points and shooting 51 percent from the field.

“You’ve got to fight these guys. You’ve got to run to the fight,” Miles said. “They are like sharks. If you put a little blood in the water, it’s over. It’s a feeding frenzy.”

Michigan State is making only its third appearance at Pinnacle Bank Arena. The Spartans won by nine points two seasons ago, and Nebraska won by two points during the 2014-15 season. Michigan State was unranked in both games.

According to the NET rankings, which the NCAA is using this season in place of the longstanding RPI, this game is a matchup of two top 10 teams – Michigan State No. 7, and Nebraska No. 10 after the Huskers won 66-51 on Monday at Indiana.

That ended a three-game conference road losing streak this season for Nebraska, which improved to 13-4 overall, and 3-3 in the Big Ten, after playing four of its first six league games on the road.

Roby noticed a difference in Monday’s performance. After saying the team seemed like it was “waiting for something bad to happen” in a previous loss at Iowa, the Huskers took a more positive, aggressive approach at Indiana.

“We played to the ability we all know we can,” Roby said.

The result: Nebraska led from start to finish against the Associated Press No. 25 team in the country, on the road, meaning the Huskers will be beaming with confidence at a place they’ve already gained a great deal of it.

“We always know how special PBA is, and that extra boost we get from the crowd and the environment as a whole,” Roby said. “It seems like teams have a hard time shooting at PBA and I don’t know what that is either, but it’s a special place to play at, and we’re grateful it’s our home court.”

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