The part of the game called “free” cost Nebraska its chance at closing out the home schedule with a win against Northwestern on Sunday.
The Huskers, the fourth-worst free-throw shooting team in the country heading into Sunday’s showdown between the bottom two teams in the Big Ten, shot 8-of-30 from the line including 1-of-5 in overtime as the Wildcats won 81-76.
“It’s been a problem for us all year,” Haanif Cheatham said. “I don’t know what was different today, but the ball just wasn’t going in the rim. Free throws — 8-for-30 is unacceptable. You’re not going to win games like that and it showed today.”
Nebraska shot 42.4% from the field and 26.7% from the free-throw line. Northwestern shot 23.5% from 3, hitting just four triples all game. The teams combined for 41 turnovers.
“You obviously don’t have to look too much farther than the turnovers and the free-throw shooting tonight,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Disappointing. I thought we played hard, I thought we really did. We were active defensively, forcing 16 steals and forcing 20 turnovers. Very uncharacteristic turning the ball over 21 times, a lot of those unforced. The obviously, the free throws. It gets contagious. I’ve been around this game long enough — when you miss a few early, it just seems to get in everybody’s head.”
Northwestern’s losing streak ends at 12. Nebraska’s extends to 14. The Wildcats completed the season sweep over the Huskers but are 0-15 against the rest of the Big Ten.
Despite leading the team in scoring and hitting some huge shots late, Haanif Cheatham’s story at Pinnacle Bank Arena doesn’t get a happy ending. Nebraska recognized Cheatham, Matej Kavas and the team’s senior managers before the game and Cheatham also received the Bus Whitehead Scholarship “in recognition of his high level of athletic achievement, moral character, effective leadership skills, integrity and a commitment to excellence in all endeavors.”
Nebraska set a new attendance record at Pinnacle Bank Arena, averaging 15,605 fans this season.
“When they say there’s nothing like Nebraska, they really mean it,” Cheatham said. “We had a really, really tough season but they came and showed out every night, every afternoon. They came and had PBA rocking, even thorough our downs.”
But the Huskers couldn’t honor Cheatham and the other seniors, or the crowd, with a victory in the final game of the season at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Cheatham finished with 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting (3-of-5 from 3), three rebounds and three assists. After pulling to within one with seven minutes to play, Nebraska went four minutes without a field goal. Then Cheatham stepped up, hitting a pair of 3-pointers from the right wing in front of his own beach — sandwiched around a Dachon Burke Jr. dunk and a Boo Buie layup — to tie the game at 65-all with 1:51 to play. He didn’t attempt a shot the rest of the way.
“I thought he was terrific on his senior day,” Hoiberg said. “It’s a game he’ll remember the rest of his life. I certainly remember mine — against Oklahoma I was 3-for-16 and we got beat. Not a good memory. But Haanif I thought went out there and played terrific and did a lot of great things at the end of the game in crunch time.”
Freshman Yvan Ouedraogo logged his second double-double in three games and third overall with 11 points and 19 rebounds including 10 on the offensive end. He’s tied the program record for double-doubles by a freshman and his 19 rebounds are the most by a Husker since Kimani Friend snagged 20 in 1999. However, he shot just 1-of-9 from the free-throw line including 1-of-4 in overtime.
“I continue to see great growth with Yvan,” Hoiberg said. “He’s been so good. You can just see his confidence. Shoot, he’s won two jump balls now in a row, I think, to start off the game. Yvan, 10 offensive rebounds, 19 rebounds overall in a Big Ten game as a 17-year-old, that’s pretty impressive.”
With Nebraska trailing 78-76 with less than a minute to play, Ouedraogo hedged hard on a ball screen and helped force a turnover, but Northwestern fouled him on the other end with 23.7 on the clock. He missed both shots and Northwestern center Ryan Young hit both of his to make it a four-point game and essentially seal he victory.
Dachon Burke Jr. got off to a disastrous start, missing all three of his field goal attempts and recording three turnovers (including two charges) in nine first-half minutes, but he bounced back in a big way after halftime. He scored 18 of his 19 points in the final 25 minutes, shooting 7-of-14 overall including 3-of-6 from 3 and notching five steals.
Burke hit a corner 3 in overtime to make it a three-point game with 1:24 to play, but a miscommunication on defense left Young wide open under the basket for a layup. Burke fired right back with another 3, this one from the top of the key with a foot on the Nebraska Panhandle on the state outline at midcourt, but Ouedraogo’s missed free throws followed and cut the comeback short.
Nebraska did end one streak on Sunday. For the first time during this losing streak, Nebraska never trailed by double digits. In each of the previous 13 losses, the Huskers fell behind by 14 or more.
Northwestern hit Nebraska with a 16-3 run early to take a 23-14 lead, but the Huskers settled down and fought back into the game, preventing the deficit from growing any larger. Nebraska trailed 37-34 at halftime then scored the first three points of the second half to knot it up, the first of six second-half ties.
A 3 by Cam Mack gave the Huskers a 42-39 lead before the first media timeout, their first advantage since 14-12 at the 13:35 mark of the first half. Mack finished with 13 points and seven assists but shot 5-of-16 from the field and turned the ball over three times.
Mack’s 3 was part of a 10-2 run that gave Nebraska its largest lead at 47-41, but the Wildcats outscored Nebraska 22-9 over the next 9:54 of game time. The Huskers rallied to send it to overtime but couldn’t get all the way over the hump.
Nebraska went 5-11 at home in 2019-20 and has two road games remaining before the Big Ten Tournament. The Huskers will head to Michigan next for a Thursday evening game.
“We’ve just got to keep going out and try to get our guys’ mentality right,” Hoiberg said. “I give our guys credit — all year long they’ve come out and, for the most part, played with great effort. That’s what we’ll continue to try to do. We’ve got two tough road games at Michigan and Minnesota to finish and then we’ll have a really tough game in the Big Ten Tournament. But we’re going to go out and continue to fight and hopefully shock somebody.”
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.