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3 Thoughts as Nebraska Takes Rutgers to the Brink on the Road

January 25, 2020

Nebraska, entering the season, seemed a team that would lose some games it wasn’t supposed to and win some games it wasn’t supposed to; the entertainment factor of an inconsistent and volatile team. The first part has held true, but head coach Fred Hoiberg is still looking for one of those signature feel-great wins in his first year on the Nebraska bench. 

He damn near got it Saturday against 24th-ranked Rutgers. 

Nebraska used a second-half charge to nearly topple the Scarlet Knights on the road, but RU guard Geo Baker hit a game-winner with one second remaining and Nebraska had to stomach a 75-72 loss. 

Shouldn’t be that hard to swallow, though. That signature win seems to be coming. Nebraska, now 7-13 on the year and 2-7 in Big Ten play, will next play host to 11-8 Michigan on Tuesday, Jan. 28, at 6 p.m. CT. 

But first, here are three thoughts from Saturday’s game. 

Were You Not Entertained?

What a game. What an atmosphere.

I’d imagine there are some upset with the loss but the vast majority of those in Husker red watching Saturday afternoon walked away entertained, proud, and encouraged. Nebraska had its moments of weakness like it has had all season—defensive lapses, forced shots—but Nebraska took a ranked Rutgers team to the brink in a building the Scarlet Knights hadn’t lost in all season.

The RAC in Piscataway, New Jersey, was sold out. The crowd was fantastic. The energy was palpable. Especially in the second half, the game opened up and Nebraska was able to accelerate the tempo. Rutgers obliged and viewers were treated to an up-and-down game flow that featured 3s flying everywhere, blocks and highlight plays.

Forward Kevin Cross pulled out a beautiful euro step, then followed it up with a half-spin move on the perimeter and a dime to a cutting Husker under the hoop.

Guards Cam Mack and Jervay Green had highlight-reel-worthy buckets. Mack himself had 16 points on 5-for-5 shooting in the second half while playing every single minute. That was after being limited by foul trouble in the first half.

Nebraska shot 48% from the field in the second half and hit six of its 13 shots from deep. Wing Thorir Thorbjarnarson continued to show out, finishing with another 17-point, eight-rebound game.

Fittingly, the game ended in dramatic fashion, with Rutgers’ Geo Baker hitting a step-back triple with just one second left on the clock to give the Scarlet Knights the win. Green had the assignment on the play and played it perfectly.

Nothing to hang heads over. Rutgers is having a special season, and Nebraska, through effort and determination, gave it all it could handle.

Jervay’s Moment

Good for Jervay Green.

Twelve second-half minutes, seven points, five rebounds, two steals, 3-of-4 shooting and zero turnovers in those twelve minutes. That was the line for him as he was a key figure in Nebraska’s near-comeback.

It’s been a tough season for the former JUCO guard, what with acclimating himself to a new level of play, falling out of the rotation and having to earn some trust back, but he seemed to have a moment against the Scarlet Knights.

He played within the offense and found his own offense, something he had previously struggled to do as a starter. Five quick points after coming into the game in the second half sparked what became an 18-2 run.

And there was the aforementioned defense at the end that was also representative of his defense throughout. Green was locked in.

If this leads to a bigger role, it will have been earned. With the season going the way its going from a win-loss standpoint, those are little things you have to feel good about.

Rutgers’ Advantage

Nebraska hit 11 of its 28 looks from deep for the game. That’s 39%, well above the season average.

But the Husker game isn’t just 3s, it’s also a heavy dose of driving and kicking and driving again. Attacking closeouts and getting to the bucket. Rutgers took that part away. Nebraska had 30 paint points, but it shot 14-of-29 on layups and only got 13 free throw attempts (just the fourth time all season its had fewer than 15).

Rutgers center Myles Johnson finished with five blocks—Rutgers had seven as a team—and he impacted a handful of other drives as well. Nebraska doesn’t have anyone that can physically match up with Johnson’s 6-foot-10, 255-pound frame. That showed.

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