Fred Hoiberg has been waiting for the game when the flood gates opened and the 3s started to fall for his team. He got an early Christmas present on Wednesday as it finally happened in a 88-74 win over Kennesaw State at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
The Huskers shot 51.7% from deep to close out the nonconference slate and head into the holiday break with a win. The 15 made 3-pointers are the most during Hoiberg’s tenure in Lincoln.
Nebraska added 28 points in the paint and shot 52.6% from the field as all 10 scholarship players that saw the court found the scoring column and seven of them hit at least one 3. The Huskers recorded a season-high 20 assists, though they also turned the ball over 17 times.
Alonzo Verge Jr. flirted with a triple-double, finishing with 16 points on 5-of-9 from the field, 2-of-3 from deep and 4-of-6 from the line, 12 assists, seven rebounds, three steals and a block.
“Alonzo, phenomenal moving the ball, making the extra pass, making the simple play,” Hoiberg said. “Very few times did he change direction and over-penetrate into the paint. He really set the tone out there with with movement and that carried over to all of our guys.”
Keisei Tominaga led the way with 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting including 4-of-7 from deep. Bryce McGowens shot 3-of-5 from deep and scored 11 points while Derrick Walker matched him with 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting and 3-of-3 from the line.
“It felt great for real, just seeing everybody out there have fun,” Lat Mayen said. “I think Zo did a good job getting everybody involved, making sure the ball touches everybody’s hands. Coach said we shot 52% from 3, so that’s impressive. You shoot that anytime, you’re going to win.”
Kennesaw State point guard Terrell Burden scored a game-high 27 points, but the Owls shot 41.3% overall and turned the ball over 21 times. Nebraska held their leading scorer, Chris Youngblood, to 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting.
At the end of his press conference, Hoiberg announced that freshman forward Wilhelm Breidenbach had undergone successful knee surgery on Wednesday and that his recovery timeline is six to eight months. Nebraska expects to have him back for the start of the 2022-23 season.
The Huskers couldn’t have gotten off to much worse of a start as they came up empty on their first possession with a bad shot, then gave up three offensive rebounds leading to a 3 on Kennesaw State’s first possession. A bad turnover on the next possession led to a run-out dunk for the Owls, and the Huskers found themselves trailing 5-0 out of the gates.
The Huskers fell behind 16-8 as rough offensive possessions continued. Nebraska hit just two of its first eight shots and turned the ball over three times in the first six minutes. True to his word, Hoiberg subbed out three or four guys for bad decisions early.
“The one thing I really commended our team in locker room after the game was how they didn’t take the film session personally,” Hoiberg said. “They took it constructively, had two good days of work where we really worked on our execution and our shot selection and I thought that carried over in a big way pretty much all the game. I thought our energy out of the gate wasn’t very good. I made a couple subs and then when we put the starters back in I thought it was terrific.”
Nebraska settled in from there, however, and put together a 19-2 run including 15 straight to turn the tables. The Huskers caught fire from deep. The Owls pulled within three briefly, but the Huskers responded with more 3s as Tominaga hit one then made the extra pass to Webster for another. Verge capped the 8-0 run with a layup to give the Huskers their first double-digit lead at 35-24.
Verge pointed to the team’s preparation as the reason for the Huskers responding well to failing behind early.
“We were going through a lot of adversity in practice this week and we fought through it,” Verge said. “Usually we would break down and it would just go all over the place, practice would be hell. This week, we fought through it, we pushed through all the things Coach put us through and I think that transferred over to the game. When we were down eight, we didn’t panic. We kind of stayed level-headed and just kept playing.”
Trevor Lakes got into the act late, hitting a 3 to give the Huskers their largest lead of the half at 12, then burying another at the buzzer to make it 45-34 at the break. Lakes entered the season 1-of-6 from deep in limited playing time. He added a layup in the second half to finish with eight points.
“I was so excited because it’s always so exciting seeing somebody you practice with and works hard every day that doesn’t always get the opportunity to play and when he does, he shows exactly what he’s capable of doing, which is shooting the ball,” Verge said. “In practice he shoots the ball and it transferred over. He comes in every day, he doesn’t point the finger, pout or talk down on anybody. That’s what happens when you be patient and wait your turn. So I’m very proud of him.”
Nebraska shot 51.6% from the field in the first half including 9-of-17 from deep (52.9%). Eight of the nine players that saw the court scored and six of them hit at least one 3. Tominaga led the way with eight points while Verge put up seven assists, six points, five rebounds and a block. His seven assist generated 21 points (six 3s and a three-point play).
Kennesaw State opened the second-half scoring with a put-back to cut it to since digits, but Verge responded by dropping his defender then hitting a step-back 3, then diving on the floor to steal a possession for the Huskers. Tominaga attacked a closeout on the ensuing play for a bucket in the paint, sparking a 12-0 run including two triples from Tominaga.
The Husker led comfortably the rest of the way as shots continued to fall. Kennesaw made one push, cutting it to 14, but McGowens answered with a pull-up 3 from the top of the key, which started a 14-3 run that pushed the lead to 25 before the under-8 media timeout.
The Owls made a dent in the deficit in the final three minutes after Hoiberg pulled most of his starters but never got it down to single digits. After starting the half 5-of-6 from deep, the Huskers missed five of their last six but still shot over 50% from the field.
“We’ve just got to continue to build and get better,” Hoiberg said. “I told them to enjoy it, this break with their families. They get four days to recoup and recover, get their minds right and their bodies right. Hopefully, with seeing the ball go through the basket, it’ll give them some confidence and clear their headspace for when they get back and we get back in the gym on the evening of the 27th.
“But overall, just a really solid effort against a good team. I was really concerned with this team. It’s always a concern, this get-away game before your players go home. Are they thinking ahead? But I really thought, again, except for those first three or four minutes, we were really good tonight.”
The Huskers will get the next four days off before returning to the court on Monday. They’ll begin conference play in earnest on Jan. 2 at home against Ohio State.
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.