Nebraska rebounded from an opening-day loss and and a rough offensive half in game two to secure its first win of the season, knocking off Sam Houston 74-65 on Friday night.
Freshman Bryce McGowens led the way and Eduardo Andre provided a big spark off the bench as the Huskers outscored the Bearkats 47-33 in the second half after trailing for nearly 22 of the first 29 minutes.
Huskers not named Bryce shot 0-of-15 from 3, but it didn’t matter because the 5-star freshman was spectacular. He one-upped his 25-point debut with 29 against the Bearkats, and he did it on much better efficiency, shooting 9-of-13 from the field, 4-of-7 from deep and 7-of-9 from the foul line.
“It really was an efficient night for Bryce and he hit a couple big ones, we ran a couple plays for him coming off screens there at the end of the game and he knocked the shots down,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I thought he had some really aggressive takes to the basket as well. You could see his confidence grow throughout this game, and hopefully he can carry this over and continue to get better and better.”
Andre, the 6-foot-11, second-year freshman, produced 11 points and seven rebounds (both career highs) while shooting 3-of-4 from the field and 5-of-6 from the line. He chipped in a block and a steal in 15 minutes.
“I thought the key person to this whole night was Eduardo,” Hoiberg said. “He just gave us such a spark out there when we needed it most and really helped come in and control the glass. He got out in the passing lanes, he was active, made his free throws; just a really complete game and I’m happy for him. He’s been working his tail off and to get this opportunity is something we talk to our guys about all the time, taking advantage when your name is called, and certainly went out and had a huge impact on this win.”
Alonzo Verge Jr. was the only other Husker in double-figures with 13 points, but he shot 4-of-16 from the field and 5-of-8 from the line. The ball stuck in Verge’s hands and he had a tough time finishing for much of the game, but he also led the team with seven assists and four steals, and the Huskers outscored the Bearkats by 17 (best plus/minus on the team) in his 30 minutes.
“I just talked to him, we’re going to have a good film session on on Sunday, just to make sure we see where the outlets are,” Hoiberg said. “He’s got such a scorer’s mentality, he’s such a talented basketball player, he can make tough shots, but we don’t always need that. That’s part of the growth and learning curve as he plays pretty much exclusively with the ball in his hands where he has played more off the ball early on in his career. He’s got that mentality, he’s a very capable passer and that shows by the seven assists. It’s just about going out there and making sure we make the right play, make the right read and get a good quality shot on the board.”
Trey McGowens said on Thursday that he needed to step up his rebounding efforts after grabbing just two defensive boards in the season-opener, and the coaches put him in drills with the bigs this week to bring that out of him. He led the Huskers with nine defensive boards and chipped in eight points on Friday.
“We put them down there for two reasons: one, to work on finishes over bigs,” Hoiberg said. “We just did a lot of the old middle school war rebound drill where we threw that thing up and three guys go up and fight each other and whoever gets it goes up and tries to score it. Trey embraced it. He’s doing a great job understanding his role his. He’s guarding; I thought he was tremendous on the ball, in the pick and roll … Overall, Tray has been phenomenal, especially in the leadership category. He’s been our vocal leader out there, trying to keep guys together when things maybe aren’t going great.”
After giving up 23 offensive rebounds and 22 second-chance points to Western Illinois, Nebraska gave up 16 offensive boards to Sam Houston, but second-chance points were even 14-14.
Nebraska shot 40.7% from the field and 72.2% from the free-throw line (on 36 attempts). Texas A&M transfer Savion Flagg went off for a game-high 31 points and 11 rebounds, but as a team the Bearkats shot 37.5% from the field, 30% from 3 and 50% from the line. Nebraska forced 18 turnovers and converted them into 18 points on the other end.
“We’re going to take the lid off this thing,” Hoiberg said. “We’ve got too many weapons, we’ve got too many shooters. But the thing about tonight is we ground one out when that thing wasn’t going into the basket and you have to have those.”
Nebraska’s shooting throughout much of the first half was even more frigid than the temperature outside of Pinnacle Bank Arena on a day when Lincolnites saw their first snowfall of the season. Thanks to a late surge, Nebraska finally pulled ahead of Mother Nature at halftime, 32.1% to 32 degrees.
Nebraska missed 12 straight shots at one point, and the Huskers came up short on their first four layups of the game. Sam Houston pulled ahead by as many as 10 points at 22-12 before taking a 32-27 lead into halftime.
Bryce McGowens kept the Huskers afloat in the first half, showing off the offensive arsenal that had him rated as a 5-star recruit coming out of high school. The 6-foot-7 wing scored 14 points on 5-of-7 from the field (2-of-3 from deep) and 2-of-4 from the line.
“Really just letting everything come to me instead of forcing everything,” Bryce McGowens said. “Going into today’s game, after the loss we took the first game, Coach really just said, ‘Let it let it flow.’ I feel like we moved the ball much better and it showed in the outcome.”
Hoiberg also turned to Andre after the second-year center didn’t play in the opener, and he provided a spark with six points, five rebounds, a block and a transition dunk in eight minutes. Andre’s length and activity made a difference on both ends.
“Ed and I, we’re really close,” Bryce McGowens said. “I always tell Ed, ‘Stay ready. Your time is coming.’ So he came in today, he was locked in when we had our earlier practice. He’s been working real hard in the beginning and him just coming in gave us a lot of energy.”
However, Huskers not name Bryce and Andre combined to shoot 2-of-18 from the field in the first half while Flagg scored 16 points to lead everyone.
Sam Houston pushed its lead to 10 after a clunky start to the second half, but the Huskers settled in from there and started chipping away at the lead, cutting it down to one with a 13-4 run capped by a Wilhelm Breidenbach three-point play.
Back-to-back Bearkat buckets pushed the lead back to five, but Nebraska controlled the action the rest of the way. The Huskers used an 8-0 run to pull ahead 49-45, their first lead since 7-6. Andre capped the run with a three-point play.
Sam Houston briefly took back the lead at 53-52, but that lasted all of 31 seconds as Verge answered with five straight. The second score came following a chase-down block from Trey McGowens, spiking what appeared to be a breakaway layup for Damarkus Lampley Jr. off the glass and fueling the Cornhusker break.
Nebraska took control of the game with a 12-3 run, pushing its lead to 10 at 69-59 with 1:40 to go. Trey McGowens scored six of those points and Bryce scored five including a 3-pointer in front of his own bench, and the Huskers salted the game away from there.
The younger McGowens put an exclamation point on the game, flying in from out of nowhere to slam home a loose ball that had been knocked from Verge’s hands before bouncing off the backboard.
Nebraska shot 50% from the field in the second half.
“I was really proud of them for hanging in there when that thing wasn’t going in the hoop,” Hoiberg said. “Obviously, we dug ourselves a hole and found a way to keep grinding and get out of it. I thought the ball movement was so much better in the second half tonight as well. Sometimes, human nature, with a new group of guys when the ball is not going in the hoop, is to try to do it by yourself. So to go out there and share the ball much better in the second half resulted in some really good possessions.”
The Huskers will continue their season-opening home stand on Tuesday as in-state rival Creighton makes the trip down I-80.
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.