Delaware State vs. Nebraska, 12/22/17

Nebraska coach Tim Miles disagrees with the referee on a foul call late in the second half during a game against Delaware State last week at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Nebraska won 85-68.

KAYLA WOLF, Journal Star

Isaiah Roby was answering a question about his team's focus Thursday when he, um, lost focus.

His Nebraska basketball teammate, James Palmer, was peeking through a group of reporters to distract him, and it worked. After gathering himself, Roby was able to complete his answer.

The Huskers will likely be more locked in Friday night as they host Stetson to wrap up nonconference play. Tip is set for 7 p.m. at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

The lone nonleague game after Christmas is a bit of a change from previous schedules, which saw the Huskers open conference play after returning from holiday break.

That includes last season, when Nebraska beat Indiana on the road just a few days after Christmas.

This season, every Big Ten team playing two league games in early December left an open date between Christmas and the restart of conference play in early January.

"It's a little bit different because we've had that change in schedule, but you've been through it enough years that you go through a little bit of everything," Nebraska coach Tim Miles said Thursday. "Our guys have definitely talked more about play, watching the Big East openers last night, so you can tell the guys are getting excited to play."

And while conference play is on the minds of many, there's still the matter of getting past Stetson (7-7), which comes into Friday's game ranked 280th in the NCAA RPI and 311th in KenPom.

To put it another way, Nebraska is 40 solid minutes away from ending a three-year streak of losing a "buy game" at home. And with some of the results suffered by power conference teams already this season, the Hatters should have the Huskers' full attention.

"You want to take every game the same, so it's the same two-day prep," Roby said. "Coach is taking it the same, and for us, these are games that you can't lose. You don't want to lose any games, obviously, but these are ones you can't drop. So for us it's just staying focused at all times."

On the same night Nebraska beat Delaware State in its last live action, Penn State lost to Rider, Rutgers lost to Stony Brook, Wright State beat Georgia Tech and St. Bonaventure beat Syracuse. Rutgers dropped another buy game Thursday night, falling to Hartford.

In what is shaping up to be a down year in the Big Ten, that type of loss is one Nebraska can't afford as it begins the push in earnest for its first NCAA Tournament bid since the 2013-14 season.

"(Our focus) has been all right. It hasn't been where we want it to be," said Roby, who pointed out the Huskers want to peak late in the year. "But we don't want to be at our best right now anyway. We've still got a lot of time left in this season."

After Stetson, Nebraska will have three days to prepare before traveling to Chicago to play Northwestern on Jan. 2 and take on Purdue four days later.

But first things first.

"It's the same every time. Guys go home (for Christmas) and they come back more ready and great. And sometimes they come back worse," Miles said. "And that's what some of our guys are doing, so we're getting the turkey out of those guys that need it out of them and just keeping the other guys in the right frame of mind and going hard."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7436 or cbasnett@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraCB.

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