Newcomers Juwan Gary and Sam Griesel made strong first impressions on Sunday as Nebraska overcome slow starts to each half to beat Chadron State 87-60 in the program’s lone home exhibition game.
Gary lived up to his preseason “dog” reputation with 23 points and nine rebounds (five offensive) in 20 minutes off the bench. The Alabama transfer shot 9-of-17 from the field (2-of-7 from 3) and 3-3 from the free-throw line.
“Juwan was all over the place,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I’m proud of him for just his overall mentality of coming in the game and being a difference-maker and a guy that can completely change the pace and the fabric of the game based on effort. His athleticism certainly showed … It was good to see to Juwan continue to shoot the open ones. They were playing way off of him. He’s worked extremely hard on his 3-point shot … He’s shot the ball very well, especially on this open 3-point looks, so it’s good to see him knock a couple of those down.”
Griesel started at the point and put up 14 points on 6-of-9 from the field and 2-of-4 from the line, seven assists and four rebounds in 29 minutes.
All 16 healthy players saw at least 30 seconds of playing time and 13 of them scored. SMU transfer Emmanuel Bandoumel added nine points on 3-of-6 from the field (1-of-3 from 3) and 2-of-2 from the foul line and two assists while starting at the two and running the second unit.
The starting five was as Hoiberg announced previously, featuring Griesel, Bandoumel, C.J. Wilcher, Wilhelm Breidenbach and Derrick Walker. Gary, Keisei Tominaga, Blaise Keita and Denim Dawson were the first four off the bench.
“For this game, we were looking to get out of it, I thought we accomplished going out and playing with great effort and really having some good, solid, sustained defensive possessions,” Hoiberg said. “I thought the run that Chadron went on to start the second half was good. I thought the guys stayed together through that adversity, which you have to have, and then went on two big runs, I think 13-2 and 21-0 in the second half to really open it up.”
Nebraska shot 47.1% from the field and scored 48 points in the paint, but the Huskers struggled mightily from the 3-point line at just 23.1% (6-of-26). Nebraska rebounded 19 of its 37 misses against the smaller Eagles and converted them into 24 second-chance points.
Chadron State, a Division II team, shot 38.1% from the field including 25% from 3. Nebraska forced 18 turnovers, though the Huskers only converted them to 15 points on the other end. Bryce Latimer led the Eagles with 12 points off the bench while Freddy Reeves Jr. Added 10 points.
“One thing that we’re going to try to do is create offense from our defense and hopefully get deflections that lead to fast break opportunities,” Hoiberg said. “I think we’ll be a better rebounding team this year, which will get us out in transition better. And then when we make shots, I think we have a chance to be pretty darn good. So we just have to keep that that consistency defensively and hopefully get deflections that will get us out in transition.”
Nebraska got off to a bit of a rocky start with three misses and two turnovers in the first couple of minutes. Chadron State scored the first five points of the game and led 9-7 four minutes in.
However, the Husker settled in a bit and ripped off a 16-2 run to take a 23-11 lead before the under-8 media timeout. The lead peaked at 16 a couple of times before a free throw from Ramel Lloyd Jr. and a stop on the final possession of the half gave Nebraska a 43-28 advantage heading into halftime.
Nebraska scored as many points in the paint in the first half as Chadron State had total, but the Huskers shot just 2-of-14 from 3 and balanced out their 11 assists on 17 buckets with eight turnovers. Griesel and Gary led the Huskers with eight points apiece in the first half.
The Eagles came out of the locker room firing, scoring 10 of the first 11 points of the second half including a pair of corner 3s in front of their bench to cut Nebraska’s lead down to to six after another slow start for Nebraska’s offense.
Griesel took over from there, however, as his finger prints were all over a 13-2 run that extended the lead back to 17. The North Dakota State transfer had a layup, a poster dunk, a pair of free throws and an assist to Gary for 3 during the run.
“He’s just really good at keeping us poised, keeping us controlled,” Walker said about Griesel. “He’s a really big body, so whenever it’s time for him to get a rebound or just get us an easy bucket at the rim, he does that. He’s a great point guard and he just controls our team. He’s the head of the snake.”
The Huskers put any thoughts of a comeback to bed soon after with a 21-nothing run spanning nearly six minutes of game time that swelled the lead to 34 at 80-46. Gary accounted for nearly half the run himself with 10 points scored in a variety of ways.
“I thought, at some points, they guarded him a little disrespectfully, I guess, for his talent level or whatever, and we have the utmost confidence in his shot-making ability and if teams are going to guard him like that, we’re fine with that,” Griesel said about Gary. “But the biggest thing is he just brings that dog mentality and obviously that showed tonight just on the offensive boards. He’s a really confident player and he brings, especially coming off the bench, a certain level of juice with his game and that is very infectious for the rest of us. So it’s nice to have him out there with us.”
The last five minutes belonged to the reserves as Hoiberg emptied the bench and got everyone else into the game, including his son Sam who put the finishing touches on the game with a layup in the final 30 seconds.
“This team is amazing, man,” Walker said. “Everyone was standing [late] just because we’re so happy for each other and we jell well together. Just to see our other guys get in the game — because honestly we’ve got a team that everyone at any given moment can be in the rotation or start. So just knowing that everyone is bought in and just playing together and just happy for each other, I think that’s our thing right now. We’re just all happy. We can’t wait to just put on a show for PBA.”
Nebraska only improved slightly from deep in the second half, shooting 4-of-12. Gary led the way with 15 points and knocked down two of those 3-pointers. Ten different Huskers scored in the second half.
Nebraska will get another week on the practice floor to address issues from the first game and keep tuning up for the regular season before heading to Boulder for a charity exhibition against Colorado on Oct. 30.