Despite a choppy, foul-filled first half and offensive struggles throughout, Nebraska improved to 3-1 on Tuesday night with a 76-69 win over South Dakota thanks to a big game from Teddy Allen and strong defensive contributions from Shamiel Stevenson.
Allen bested his previous Nebraska high from his last time out and came one point shy of his career high with 23 points, shooting 7-of-15 from the field, 2-of-5 from 3 and 7-of-11 from the free-throw line. Allen put the team on his back for long stretches with some tough buckets when nobody else could find a rhythm offensively.
“He’s one of those very unique players,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He can score it inside, he can drive it. He gets a guy on his hip, he’s so strong at keeping them there and is a very crafty finisher in the paint. He gets it going and that opens up the 3-point shot where he knocked down a couple of those as well. We just rode him and put the ball in his hands. Unfortunately he picked up the three fouls in the first half and wasn’t out there much, but he certainly got us going at the right time when we need it most and it was enough to hold them off there at the end.”
However, South Dakota’s leading scorer, 6-foot-6 wing Stanley Umude, went bucket-for-bucket with Allen for much of the game, matching him with 23 points. Nebraska started with the 6-foot-4 Trey McGowens on him, but Umude took advantage of that size mismatch a few times, and McGowens got himself in some foul trouble as well. So Hoiberg turned to the 6-foot-6, 245 Stevenson off the bench to guard Umude and it made a difference. He finished 7-of-18 from the field including 1-of-6 from deep.
“Shamiel did a phenomenal job and in my opinion was the player of the game with his defense,” Hoiberg said. “He forced Umude into really tough shots.”
Eventually, the Huskers’ depth won out as four others cracked double digits alongside Allen. Nebraska stretched the lead out in the second half and held on despite a late Coyote rally.
The Huskers shot 40% from the field, 29.2% from deep and 70% from the foul line with a season-low 10 assists and a season-high 15 turnovers.
McGowens finished with 13 points and six rebounds, doing a lot of his damage from the charity stripe. Stevenson and Kobe Webster chipped in 11 points and four boards apiece off the bench. Dalano Banton added 10 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals. Lat Mayen had a game-high 12 rebounds and shot 2-of-4 from deep for six points.
A.J. Plitzuweit scored a game-high 24 points for South Dakota, although 13 of that came in the final four minutes after the Huskers had built a 16-point lead. Nebraska transfer and Platteview High School product Brady Heiman started at center for the Coyotes and played 15 minutes, recording two points, two assists, two blocks and two steals.
Nebraska struggled mightily throughout the first half. South Dakota jumped out to an 11-6 lead then pulled back in front 16-12 after the Huskers tied it up. A 7-0 run (including a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer from Allen) gave the Huskers the lead at 19-16, but it was short-lived.
Nebraska’s next five possessions: shot blocked, bad pass turnover, travel, charge, charge. The first charge was on Allen, his third foul of the first half. South Dakota pulled back in front with a 6-0 run.
A pull-up 3 from McGowens sparked a 9-2 Husker run that gave Nebraska the lead for good. After South Dakota cut it to 31-29, the Huskers scored the last five points of the half to take a 36-29 lead into the break.
Nebraska shot 4-of-10 from deep but converted just five of their 16 shots inside the arc and turned the ball over 10 times. McGowens led the huskers with nine points despite picking up two fouls. Banton played just 11 minutes because of foul trouble as well.
Nebraska held South Dakota to 34.5% from the field, including 3-of-12 from deep, and forced nine turnovers.
Allen and Umude both came out of the locker room locked in and went bucket-for-bucket as they each had nine of their team’s first 12 points. Allen knocked down a 3-pointer shortly before the under-16 media timeout, and as he walked back to the bench for the break he let out a yell inside the empty Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“That’s him,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a passionate basketball player. He hates to lose. That’s one thing I love about him is his competitiveness. I think it got the best of him in that first half when he got that technical, but that’s who Teddy Allen is. He’s a heck of a competitor, a fiery competitor, and guys see that and they ride with him when he gets it going … He was great. He came over, he was pumping the guys up in the huddle. Even when things weren’t going great, our guys were still vocal and talking.”
A South Dakota layup cut the deficit to five before a 9-0 Husker run capped by a Webster 3 stretched the lead to 14. Umude snapped the run with a put-back but Webster answered with another 3 from the same corner. Umude didn’t make another field goal the rest of the game.
“Second half, he came out hot and Coach knows I’m one of the best defenders on the team, so we decided to let me do my thing and it worked out,” Stevenson said. “I ended up stopping him a few times and I think it helped us and propelled us to go on a run.”
Five straight by Allen pushed the lead to its peak of 18 at 67-49. South Dakota cut it down to 10 a few times late then closed the game on a 7-2 run in the last 40 seconds, but the Huskers held on.
Nebraska shot better inside the arc (60%) but struggled from the perimeter at 3-of-14 (21.4%).
“It had an impact, but that’s going to happen,” Stevenson said about the choppiness. “The games aren’t going to go smoothly all the time. People are going to get in foul trouble, but we have to respond. I think we responded a little late, but we still responded. The win was a little ugly, but like I said, that’s going to happen and as long as we pull it out and learn from it, then I think we’ll be all right.”
After playing four games in seven days, the Huskers will get a bit of a break as they’re not scheduled to return to Pinnacle Bank Arena until Sunday as Florida A&M comes to town. Tipoff on BTN is set for 1 p.m.