Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Early Barrage Boosted Northwestern to a Blowout Win at Nebraska

February 05, 2022

Each of Nebraska’s previous three meetings with Northwestern under Fred Hoiberg have gone down to the wire, with the Wildcats pulling out close wins including one in overtime and another at the buzzer.

Saturday’s game at Pinnacle Bank was close for about seven minutes. Then the Wildcats hit Nebraska with a 22-5 run and the Huskers crumbled. The Wildcats went on to win 87-65, but that final margin belies the game’s competitiveness.

Northwestern entered Saturday tied for 11th place in the Big Ten at 3-8 (and10-10 overall), and the Wildcats wiped the Cornhuskers off their own floor to hand them their 12th straight conference loss (and 17th overall).

“I really thought we turned a corner with every night coming out, playing with great energy and intensity … The other night we played with unbelievable urgency and energy and that’s what gave us a chance to win those games,” Hoiberg said. “You could tell from the start tonight, just you know the pace going both ways … The overall urgency early in that game was the thing that was so disappointing to me and in our home building and an afternoon game and reunion weekend, you want to give your alumni something to cheer about and be proud about and we were awful in that area.”

Northwestern bombed away from deep early as they found themselves open time and time again to create plenty of separation and then cruised though the rest of the game. The Wildcats finished at 13-for-31 (41.9%) from 3 and shot 48.5% overall.

Nebraska shot 45.1% from the field including 38.9% from 3, but Northwestern nearly doubled up the Huskers in made triples as point guard Boo Buie hit six by himself and finished with a game-high 27 points.

C.J. Wilcher was the lone bright spot offensively for the Huskers with 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting (3-of-6 from 3).  Bryce McGowens chipped in 10 points but half of that came from the foul line as he shot 2-of-8 from the field.

Wilcher said a lack of intensity from the jump is what made this game different from Nebraska’s last few where the Huskers kept the games close throughout.

“We competed in those games before today,” Wilcher said. “We started the game off hot every game. Of course, we died down a little bit, but then we found a way to pick it back up. I think that was what was missing today, just that fire, just that edge that we’ve used to compete those games before.”

The game got off to a sluggish start both ways. The Wildcats got a layup on their first possession of the game then attempted nine straight 3s, making just two of them. Nebraska hit one of its first six shots and turned it over three times, however, as the Wildcats led 8-5 at the first media timeout five minutes in.

The Huskers briefly took a 10-8 lead on a 3 by Wilcher, but the Wildcats scored on nine straight possessions including four 3s to open up a 30-15 lead. A 5-3 spurt from Wilcher cut it to 13, but Northwestern continued to rain 3s and hit the Huskers with a 10-3 run to open up a 21-point lead, hitting nine of their first 17 3s.

“We didn’t hit shots today,” Hoiberg said. “We’ve been getting off to good starts; you look at our numbers in the first five minutes, they’ve been really good and we’ve been shooting a very high percentage. Today we didn’t make anything early and I thought that did affect us getting back. When we turned it over, we didn’t react to it. It’s disappointing, to say the least, to come out with this type of effort at home.”

Nebraska had a chance to close the half well as Northwestern switched to a 3-2 zone on its last defensive possession and Alonzo Verge Jr. found Derrick Walker slipping down the lane for a bunny. The Wildcats missed a 3 on the other end, but the ball took a bad bounce and ended up in Julian Roper II’s hands. He tried to slam it home but Walker blocked it out of bounds. 

Northwestern ran a play to get Robbie Beran a 3 in the corner and he air-balled it, but Lat Mayen fouled Elyjah Williams on the rebound with 0.1 on the clock in the bonus and he hit both shots to give the Wildcats a 49-27 lead at halftime.

Northwestern, who averaged 8.2 3s per game heading into Saturday, shot 10-of-23 from deep in the first half against Nebraska led by Buie’s four triples and 16 points. Northwestern out-scored Nebraska 14 to 10 in the paint as well.

“They got a few 3s in transition, which is what we talked about going in in the scout, they get transitioned 3s,” Wilcher said. “They shoot the ball one through five better than a lot of teams we’ve played in conference so far because they have bigs that step out and shoot the ball as well. So I think that’s where it started out, and then there’s energy behind the ball. Players get confident, then shots go down. So I think that’s kind of where it came from, really just the early shots and transition, and even even big fella hit a few 3s early on. So I think that kind of just gave them confidence, gave them energy behind the ball.”

The Wildcats made more 3s than Nebraska did field goals in the first half as the Huskers shot 33.3% from the field and turned the ball over eight times. WIlcher led the way with 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting including 3-of-6 from 3. Verge set up Wilcher for most of his buckets and dished out five assists in the first half to go with his five points.

Two more 3s from Buie to start the second half pushed Northwestern’s lead to 26 at 55-29. A quick 6-0 run featuring layups from Verge, Trey McGowens and Bryce McGowens cut it to 20, but the momentum was short-lived.

Northwestern pushed its lead to 30 by the under-12 timeout and it hovered around there for a while, peaking at 35 a couple of times.

The Huskers closed the game on an 11-0 run to make the final margin look a bit more respectable, with walk-on freshman Jackson Cronin scoring his first collegiate points on a goaltended layup and Keon Edwards knocking down his first 3 at Nebraska.

The Huskers shot nearly 60% from the field in the second half, but they missed seven of their 12 free throws and turned the ball over seven more times while the Wildcats shot over 50% themselves.

The Huskers will return to the court at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Wednesday to host Minnesota.

“We’ll see who’s ready to compete on Monday morning,” Hoiberg said. “Unfortunately, we have take tomorrow off. I’d love to get them in here and get after it hard, but NCAA rules, you have to take a day off. Unfortunately, we’ve got to do that tomorrow. So we’ll see who’s ready to compete on Monday morning and those that are ready to compete, those are the ones that are going to play moving forward.”

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