Fred Hoiberg shared on Wednesday that junior forward Derrick Walker’s suspension — originally 16 games then reduced to 14 — has been cut again down to 11 games. True freshman center Eduardo Andre returned to practice on Monday as well.
For those reasons and more, Hoiberg and his staff scheduled a replacement game for Thursday against NAIA Doane. The Doane game fills the void left by the cancellation of Nebraska’s game against Florida A&M.
“We looked at several options,” Hoiberg said. “We talked about not playing a game and just getting ready for our conference season. We talked about a couple other potential games that we looked at, but we just felt like this is the thing to do. One of the reasons we’re doing this obviously is to get a game against another opponent. We’ve had a lot of time, obviously, in the gym practicing against each other, so to get an opportunity to go out here in a game-type setting against another opponent is important.”
The other big reasons were to knock one more game off the Walker countdown (barring future cancellations, Walker’s first game should be Jan. 2 against Michigan State) and get Andre into a game before the Big Ten opener.
“We felt it was a good opportunity for Eduardo to not have his first action against two of the better bigs in our league with [Micah] Potter and [Nate] Reuvers when we do match up against Wisconsin,” Hoiberg said.
Hoiberg has a connection with Doane head coach Ian McKeithen after hiring him as an intern with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2007. The two are good friends, and now they’ll coach against each other for the second time in as many seasons after the Huskers hosted the Tigers in an exhibition game in 2019-20.
Hoiberg’s plan is for Andre, the 6-foot-10 freshman from England, to play on Thursday, but don’t expect to see much of him.
“Eduardo’s not ready for extended minutes yet,” Hoiberg said. “He just got back on the practice floor yesterday. Today was his second day. He can go about three minutes in the halfcourt and then he’s exhausted. It’s going to take him a while to get his feet under him and to get his wind where it needs to be. That being said, it is a great first experience to get rid of the butterflies, to go out there in a game-type setting and get up and down the floor, get his legs burning and you get that first one behind him as opposed to having his first one be a league game.”
Doane (5-8) doesn’t have a player taller than 6-foot-7 on its roster. The Tigers have 12 Nebraska natives on their varsity roster including two Lincoln natives. Omaha North graduate Anthony Laravie, a 6-foot senior guard, is leading the team in scoring at 15.7 points per game. Lincoln Pius X product Joe Burt, a 6-foot-3 junior guard, is second on the team at 11.1 points per game and is shooting 40.5% from 3.
Nebraska (3-3) has lost two in a row, both by double digits. This gap in the schedule provided a chance to examine where things turned south and work on getting back on the right track, and now the Huskers will get a chance to put that work into practice against another team.
“Obviously we’ve got a lot of things we need to do better more consistently,” Hoiberg said. “We played 26 of our most productive minutes of the season the other night against Creighton, and then 14 of our worst in the same game, which is disheartening. When you have a four-point game with 14-and-a-half to go, and then the wheels just completely fall off and we crumble. That’s part of that and that’s part of the process when you have so many new faces, but we can’t use that excuse forever. We’ve got to get better at it.
“We really went at it these last couple days of practice. We’re going to get after it tomorrow morning. For me right now, it’s about correcting, it’s about us, it’s about doing things better more consistently throughout the game and making sure we’re building the right habits. I loved our approach. We’ve had good, solid, hard, physical practices and I’m hopeful that will carry over not only to tomorrow, but then the 20 league games. We’re going to have to if we want a chance to be in games and have a chance to win.”
Trey McGowens said the attitude in these tough practices has been really good.
“Yesterday, the two-a-day, we really got after it,” McGowens said. “It got a little chippy. Today we shook back and really just handled adversity well coming off a tough day that we had yesterday from the two-a-day. A lot of attention to detail, but we stayed locked in. I feel like we definitely got better over the last two days.”
Lat Mayen said a big focus in the practices has been trusting each other, moving the ball and taking the right shots in addition to playing fast and working harder on the defensive glass. Now the focus is translating all of that — the toughness and the execution — to a real game.
“We have a lot of tough guys, but like Coach said, the toughness we show in practice, we’ve got to show it toward the other team,” McGowens said. “Of course we get after it because we see each other every day, but we have to flip that switch. That’s what we’re looking forward to do tomorrow and then just going forward, taking every day in practice and just transferring it over to the games.”
One number Hoiberg will be watching closely in Thursday’s game is the turnover count. After a great start in terms of ball security, Nebraska has turned the ball over 56 times in its last three games.
“What we have to do is continue to trust and understand the things that have been working, we’ve got to continue to do that,” Hoiberg said. “When a team goes on a 6-0 run and makes it a seven or 10-point game the other way, we have to come down and continue to move the ball, not try to split a small space and turn the ball over. That was my biggest concern this year going into this season was taking care of the basketball. Early practices, we were throwing that thing all over the place. And then we get into the games and it’s 10 turnovers, 0 turnovers, nine turnovers. In the last three, it’s 15, 16, 25, so obviously we’re trending in the wrong direction.
“We practiced without dribbling, and got pretty damn good at it. We cut, we slashed, we were picking the defense apart when we were doing that. But the biggest sign of growth in that is can you do it when things get difficult, can you continue to trust and do the things that have been working the last part of the game as opposed to going out and doing it on our own. I’m confident with this group. They’re unbelievable coachable, they want to get better, they have pride and hopefully starting tomorrow, we can take a step in the right direction in that area and then carry that over to Wisconsin on the 22nd.”
Tipoff on Thursday is set fro 6 p.m. on BTN+. Larry Punteney and Buzzy Caruthers will call the game on the stream while Kent Pavelka and Jake Muhleisen have the radio call as usual on the Husker Sports Network.