Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Avalanche of Auburn 3s and Dunks Buries Nebraska in Atlanta

December 11, 2021

No. 18 Auburn doubled up Nebraska in 3-pointers and nearly did the same with points in the paint as the Tigers rolled to a 99-67 win over the Huskers at the Holiday Hoopsgiving in Atlanta on Saturday.

The Tigers (8-1) made a season-high 14 3s on 31 attempts (45.2%). The Huskers (5-6) started 3-of-16 before hitting four of their last six after the game had already been decided and finished at 31.8%. Auburn outscored Nebraska 48 to 26 in the paint as well including six dunks.

The one bright spot was C.J. Wilcher, who broke out of his shooting slump to score a career-high 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including 4-of-6 from 3.

“That’s what I told him when he came out there late in the game,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said during his postgame radio interview. “I said, ‘Now you saw that thing go through the hoop.’ We’ve got to get him confident now and he’s a huge part of what we do. Early on he was knocking down shots for us; it looked like he had got that swagger back today as far as knocking down shots, and that’s what we need.”

Derrick Walker continued his efficient play with 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting, 10 rebounds, four assists, two blocks and two steals. Bryce McGowens (14) and Alonzo Verge Jr. (10) both finished in double figures, but they shot a combined 8-of-23 from the field with five assists and nine turnovers (seven by Verge).

Nebraska shot 42.6% from the field and turned the ball over 20 times, which led to 30 points on the other end. Auburn outscored Nebraska 27-4 in fast break points as the Tigers shot 51.3% overall.

“We obviously did not take care of the ball … and that’s what gets them going just when they get those home-run-type plays, lob dunks, and then they got comfortable knocking down the 3s,” Hoiberg said. “Our effort was better, there’s no doubt about it. This is a tough team to play when you’ve got struggles going on like we do right now. The biggest thing we have now, we’ve got a week to get this thing figured out. It starts with practice on Monday, guys showing up with the right urgency to get out and get this thing fixed. Obviously a very difficult game, two in a row now, and we’ve got to find a way to dig deep and move on from here.”

Freshman Jabari Smith, a likely top-five pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, led five Tigers in double figures with 21 points, five rebounds and four assists. Wendell Green Jr. added 19 points, six rebounds and six assists off the bench. Those two shot 7-of-12 from 3, equaling Nebraska’s total by themselves.

Nebraska was without freshman Wilhelm Breidenbach, who has a significant injury and will miss “a lot of time,” according to Hoiberg. He’ll see one more doctor before Nebraska announces the final diagnosis. Freshman Keon Edwards and redshirting walk-on Sam Hoiberg did not make the trip because of a non-COVID-19 illness.

Nebraska briefly took the lead three minutes in, but it lasted all of 45 seconds as a put-back by K.D. Johnson put the Tigers back in front. After a pair of free throws from Jabari Smith, Verge found Walker for a layup to make it 10-9 Auburn.

Then things spiraled out of control. The Huskers went 6:39 between buckets, scoring just four points from the free-throw line during a 21-4 Auburn run. Verge found Walker again to finally end the drought form the field, but the Tigers continued to roll as the lead swelled to 23 before the under-4 media timeout.

The Tigers went cold down the stretch, missing nine of their final 10 shots of the half, and the Huskers scored the final five points heading into the locker room. But Auburn still led 45-28.

“I thought end of the first half, we had six or seven wide open shots and unfortunately those don’t go in,” Hoiberg said. “We had a chance to cut that thing under 10, I thought, with the plays we made, but then we got in there and tried to force passes through small spaces or tried to finish over their length at the rim, which they’re third in the nation in shot-blocking.”

Auburn only shot 39.5% from the field, but that including 7-of-17 from deep. The Huskers shot 32.1% from the field (2-of-10 from 3) and turned the ball over nine times, leading to 11 points the other way. Auburn had a 14-0 edge in fast break points. Smith scored 12 points in the first half and the Tigers to 19 points off their bench as well.

Devan Cambridge put together a personal 6-2 run including back-to-back alley-oop dunks to push the lead back to 21. The Huskers briefly showed some signs of life with a 3-pointer from Wilcher then a pair of buckets off Auburn turnovers to pull within 14 with just under 15 minutes to play.

Auburn took a timeout to regroup, however, and hit the Huskers with a 27-9 run to push the lead to 32 as Nebraska turnover woes continued.

The Huskers hit seven straight field goals including 3s by Wilcher, Kobe Webster and Trevor Lakes, but Nebraska only got three stops during that stretch and 22 points was as close as they could get as the Huskers went scoreless for the final three minutes.

Nebraska shot 53.8% from the field including 5-of-12 from 3, but the Tigers hit two-thirds of their shots with seven more 3-pointers and forced 11 more Nebraska turnovers.

There’s a gap in Nebraska’s schedule thanks to finals week. The Huskers won’t return to the court at Pinnacle Bank Arena until next Sunday, but Hoiberg said it won’t be a week off for the Huskers after back-to-back losses by 30-plus.

“It’s not going to be week of rest, I can promise you that,” Hoiberg said. “It’s going to be a hard, demanding, physical week and we’ve got to get this thing right. We’re going to change a couple things up with the way we’re going through our offense, try to control it a little bit better, especially early on in the game. And just get them competing, that’s that’s the biggest thing in this week, and then we have to have two strong performances heading into the Christmas break.”

The Huskers will host Kansas State on Dec. 19, then Kennesaw State will visit Lincoln on Dec. 22 to close out the nonconference schedule.

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