LINCOLN — Bruno Fernando dribbled once, then lowered his shoulder and thundered into Tanner Borchardt.
Borchardt collapsed under the rim. Fernando skied with one hand, and screamed as he shook the rim with a dunk. The 6-10 forward landed briefly on Borchardt, then stepped over him, screaming again.
Tim Miles exploded onto the court, arms spread wide, and lunged toward the Maryland bench. A referee blew the play dead and held Miles back, but the coach kept screaming and shaking a finger toward Fernando.
It's intense in Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Bruno Fernando finishes the slam, and Tim Miles gets a T for protesting the no-call: pic.twitter.com/TZHFcwQ6iz
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) February 7, 2019
Miles was given a technical. Fernando stood at midcourt and egged on the booing crowd with a sinister smile.
The technical, Miles said, was on purpose. He had no comment on whether Fernando stomped on Borchardt or not. The refs, Isaiah Roby said, claimed Borchardt flopped.
But all night during Nebraska’s sixth straight loss, Miles tried to find a spark. He started Thorir Thorbjarnarson. Begged for a technical. Nothing worked. And the 60-45 loss to No. 24 Maryland on Wednesday night turned into one of the ugliest, nastiest, most volatile games in years.
“I hope and pray to God that this is rock bottom,” Miles said.
Nebraska shot an arena-low 21 percent and scored an arena-low 45 points. Maryland freshman Jalen Smith scored 18 with 11 rebounds, and Fernando finished with his sixth straight double-double with 13 points and 19 rebounds.
Isaiah Roby scored a team-high 20 points on 7 of 22 shooting. The rest of the team shot 5 for 35 — that’s 14.3 percent. At one point, Nebraska didn’t make a shot for 9 minutes and 48 seconds. Maryland scored 15 unanswered during that span.
Senior guard Glynn Watson didn’t make a shot and finished with zero points and one assist. James Palmer scored 12 points on 13 shots.
“It’s mental,” Miles said. “I really believe it’s mental.”
After getting down by 11, Nebraska scratched and clawed back to make it 31-29 with 14:55 left. But Maryland wiggled away, outscoring NU 29-16 the rest of the way. The Terrapins scored 30 points in the paint and outrebounded Nebraska 53-42.
“Nobody is really having fun right now,” Roby said. “We all had really big expectations for this season and we know that time just keeps running out and keeps running out.”
The six-game losing streak is the second-longest in the Miles era. Nebraska’s now lost eight of 10 games and sits at 13-10 after an 11-2 start.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said he felt bad for Nebraska. Losing Isaac Copeland has clearly done a number on the team.
“They’re just not playing with confidence right now,” Turgeon said. “I know how tough this business is. I feel bad for Nebraska and Tim.”
The Fernando play, which made its rounds through social media and had some national pundits calling for a suspension, put Maryland up 10 in the second half. And it released the anger and frustration from the court to the stands.
While Maryland built a second-half lead, a fan near the press box yelled at Miles to get his “(expletive) together.” He was kicked out soon after for saying the same thing minutes later.
“You’re done,” another fan screamed while Maryland shot free throws, “and you know it.”
Miles, ever the talker, could hardly get through his final thoughts on Wednesday, choking up at the end of his press conference.
“I feel really awful for our players. Because I told them a long time ago, ‘I’m not going to let you fail,’ ” Miles said, trailing off while his eyes grew misty. “And … it hurts. It’s hard.”
Miles said the team is searching for hope. For something — anything — to grab on to while the season plunges off a cliff.
Miles wiped his eyes and walked into the locker room. His senior point guard was nowhere to be found.
Watson was back on the floor with three trainers. Half the lights in the arena were off. He was still in uniform. Watson bounced, from the 3-point line to the foul line, and shot without speaking.
After the chaos, rock bottom was a calm, solemn scene. Watson shot, and moved his spot, and shot, and the lowest night of the season ended with the soft pat of a ball falling through the net, and the squeak of the senior’s sneakers echoing off thousands of empty seats.