Nebraska suffered its 10th loss to Creighton in 11 years on Tuesday night, and the Huskers lost a key part of their rotation in the process.
Trey McGowens wasn’t with the team when the Huskers returned to the floor for the second half. He eventually returned to the bench in a boot with crutches, and after the game Coach Fred Hoiberg announced that the 6-foot-4 guard had suffered a broken fifth metatarsal in his right foot.
“Just devastating news for the heart and soul of our team,” Hoiberg said. “He came down on it wrong and broke the fifth metatarsal. So he’ll meet with our our team tomorrow, team of physicians and trainers, and we’ll put a timeframe on on the rehab and when we can expect him back. We expect him to make a full recovery and be back to normal. We don’t know the timeframe of it yet, but it’s just heartbreaking for a guy that has come in here and bought into his role.
“He is our best leader, uses his voice every day in practice, from the warm-up all the way to the end. So a really tough loss for us. I really feel for him. He’ll have a lot of support through this process, and hopefully he’ll be back as as soon as possible.”
Nebraska dug itself a big hole in the first half, climbed out of it with a barrage off the bench late in the first half and ran out of gas late in a 77-69 loss in front of the 10th-largest crowd ever at Pinnacle Bank Arena (15,939).
After missing the first two games of the season (back injury for the first, coach’s decision for the second), senior guard Kobe Webster made his season debut after the Huskers fell behind by 18 in the first half and proceeded to pour in 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting (4-of-7 from deep) in 23 minutes.
“I know what I’m capable of,” Webster said. “Coach has confidence in me, he had confidence to put me in the game. I’m not going to harp on any individual stats or anything like that because the goal is to win. So like I said, I know what I’m capable of and I’m glad I was able to give a spark, but I want to win.”
C.J. Wilcher added a career-high 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting (3-of-6 from 3) in a career-high 32 minutes off the bench, and he started in McGowens’ place in the second half.
Alonzo Verge Jr. was the only other Husker in double figures with 10 points and four assists, but he shot just 5-of-15 from the field. Creighton held Bryce McGowens to six points on 3-of-10 shooting, and foul trouble limited him to just 29 minutes.
Nebraska had a tough time slowing down Creighton point guard Ryan Nembhard as the freshman finished with 22 points, five rebounds and five assists. Division II Northwest Missouri State transfer Ryan Hawkins stuffed the stat sheet with 15 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a steal.
With Webster and Wilcher doing the heavy lifting, the Huskers finally found the range form deep, shooting 10-of-26 (38.5%) from 3. However, the Huskers were just 14-of-26 on layups and dunks and 7-of-9 at the free-throw line, shooting 37.1% from the field overall. Creighton’s 7-foot-1 center, Ryan Kalkbrenner, made finishing at the rim tough with three blocks and numerous altered shots.
Creighton shot 10-of-23 from 3 after hitting just one of its 19 attempts against Kennesaw State on Thursday. Nebraska forced 16 Creighton turnovers and converted them into 24 points on the other end, but it wasn’t enough.
Nebraska opened the game by forcing a turnover on defense then taking advantage of the 6-foot Nembhard in the post. Verge drew a double-team then kicked it to Lat Mayen in the corner for a 3. Mayen got fouled on a 3 on the next possession and hit two of the shots, giving the Huskers a 5-1 lead out of the gates.
Things spun out of control from there, however. Creighton settled in and began executing at a high level on both ends while pushing the pace in transition. The Jays hit Nebraska with a 13-0 run that included seven straight misses by the Huskers.
The ball continued to stick for Nebraska as Creighton’s lead swelled to as much as 19 after another 13-0 run made it 29-10.
“We lost that game in the first first five minutes,” Hoiberg said. “Every day we put the key on what the games are and the last two we have not gone out and executed if. The last game it was rebounding, they got four of them in the first minute-and-a-half. Tonight was transition and after getting off to a solid start — I think was 5-to-1 in our favor — they got anything they wanted in a transition and and that’s disappointing. We had some bad offense that lead to those possessions, but mostly it wasn’t communicating and getting matched up to their shooters.”
Nebraska’s first 2-point field goal didn’t come until the 8:30 mark of the first half as Webster checked in and hit a midrange jumper on his first possession.
Derrick Walker hit Bryce McGowens on a back-door cut for a dunk out of the under-8 timeout, sparking a 9-0 Nebraska run. The younger McGowens dunked again off a cut then converted a tough layup in transition before Wilcher knocked down his third triple of the half.
“I give our bench all the credit in the world for getting us to climb back into that thing, led by Kobe,” Hoiberg said. “He was phenomenal out there and the ball was moving, it was hopping, we were moving the ball side to side, cutting, getting back cuts; we didn’t have that early.”
A layup by Creighton freshman Trey Alexander did nothing to cool Nebraska’s momentum as the Huskers used a 12-2 run after that to cut the deficit down to one. Nebraska had two more looks from the arc in the final minute but neither fell, and Creighton took a 40-36 lead into the locker room.
Nebraska cut it to one possession twice in the second half, first at 44-43 and then again at 55-53, but each time Creighton responded. The Huskers kept within striking distance until a pair of 3s from Hawkins pushed the lead to 12 with 85 seconds to play.
“We had a couple chances to get over the hump, to take a lead,” Hoiberg said. “I don’t think we ever got it. Had we hit one of those shots — I think we had a couple at the rim and an open 3 — maybe it’s a different outcome, maybe the momentum shifts to our side. But give Creighton credit, they played well. I like their team a lot. They’ve got shooting all across the board and great size. There are going to be things we can build off of in this game, you always have to look for the positives, but there are a lot of things that we need to correct.”
Creighton shot 6-of-12 from deep in the second half while the Huskers went 2-for-11, cancelling out a 10-point advantage in the paint for Nebraska.
Hoiberg has two days to address what went wrong and find a way to move forward without his team’s leader and best perimeter defender. Idaho State will swing through Lincoln for a Friday night meeting.
“We obviously started C.J. there in the second half,” Hoiberg said. “He did start the first game when Lat was out with the injury. We’ll evaluate that here heading into the game on Friday. We feel we do have depth. Nobody’s going to replace Trey, not one person can do what Trey does. We’re going to have to find a way to do it by committee.”
Tipoff on Friday is set for 6 p.m. CT.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.