Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Griesel Probable, Keita Questionable, Gary Out against Ohio State

January 17, 2023

Coach Fred Hoiberg opened his Tuesday press conference with a lengthy injury update.

The good news was that starting point guard Sam Griesel was back and made it through most of practice on Tuesday ahead of the team’s matchup with Ohio State. Hoiberg said Griesel went through half the team’s practice on Monday and woke up feeling good, so they ramped up his activity without a set-back.

Hoiberg said the hip strain that knocked him out of the lineup for Nebraska’s loss at No. 3 Purdue on Saturday was unrelated to the previous hip issues that led to Griesel undergoing surgery in the spring. He worked out prior to the Purdue game but the team wanted to be cautious with him and held him out. Hoiberg said he expects Griesel to be available without restrictions on Wednesday.

The news wasn’t as positive for the other players on the injury list. Hoiberg reiterated that starting forward Juwan Gary would be out for a while after a shoulder injury suffered late in the first half against Illinois. 

“He got a scan yesterday and he’s going to go see a shoulder specialist tomorrow, and we’ll have an update after that,” Hoiberg said. “We’re still hopeful that we will get Juwan back at some point, but we’ll know a lot more after tomorrow’s appointment with the specialist.”

With Gary sidelined, Nebraska will need more production from its two freshmen, Denim Dawson and Jamarques Lawrence. The 6-foot-6 Dawson is the guy that can best replicate some of the rebounding and defensive contributions Gary made.

“He’s done a lot of good things for this team this year,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a very good offensive rebounder; we need him to go on every possession. He’s a tremendous athlete, and he’s a guy that can give us a defensive presence out there, which we need.” 

Dawson has to find a way to be more productive offensively if he’s going to see his role expand, however; he has two points on 1-for-9 shooting in seven Big Ten games so far this season. 

Hoiberg has also praised Lawrence’s ability to match up with opposing ball-handlers, and he showed some offensive flashes against Purdue as well.

“Jamarques can give us some of that, he can guard the ball,” Hoiberg said. “He’s done a nice job of picking things up and the defensive scheme which is so much different than what he saw in high school. So just continuing to see who’s going to give us the best chance.”

The final injury update involved back-up center Blaise Keita, who suffered a high-ankle sprain against Queens on Dec. 20. Keita missed two games after sustaining the injury and has played nine total minutes in the last three, and he’s struggled during those minutes. Hoiberg said Keita only participated in about half the team’s practice on Tuesday.

“He’s just having trouble recovering from that high-ankle sprain,” Hoiberg said. “It’s in a little bit different spot in his foot right now, the pain is a little bit lower like a normal, typical ankle sprain. We’ve just got to continue to hopefully get him better and get him timing and reps and hopefully get him back on the floor soon, back at full strength.”

Ohio State (10-7, 2-5 Big Ten) will carry a four-game losing streak into Pinnacle Bank Arena on Wednesday, including a home loss to Minnesota last Thursday. Despite the recent struggles (including failing to reach 70 points in three of the four losses), Ohio State is still ranked fourth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency according to KenPom. The Buckeyes are 16th nationally in 3-point percentage at 38.7 and 20th in offensive rebounding percentage at 35.4.

“The biggest thing we need is help on the glass,” Hoiberg said. “As you saw the last two games, we’ve gotten it handed to us on the glass, and that’s been a pretty common theme: when we’ve battled on the glass and done a good job, we’ve won, and when the opposite has occurred we’ve lost. So it’s pretty easy. We’ve really gotten after it with our guys, it’s been very physical with our practices to try to simulate what we’re going to see. Ohio State’s top 10 in the nation in offensive rebound percentage and that’s what we’re going to see every night that we take the floor for the next 13 league games that we have.”

Gary’s absence is particularly challenging for the Ohio State matchup because Ohio State’s top two scorers are bigger wings. Freshman Brice Sensabaugh (6-foot-6, 235 pounds) is averaging 16.9 points while shooting 50.2% from the field, 46.1% from 3 and 81.8% from the free-throw line. Senior Justice Sueing (6-foot-6, 210 pounds), who missed almost all of the 2021-22 season, has struggled from deep this season at just 25.5%, but he’s still scoring 13.6 points per game.

“It’s a big challenge,” Hoiberg said. “Sam can give us some minutes, certainly, whether it’s Sueing or whether it’s Sensabaugh, but those two guys are really good three-level scorers, as good as any in our league as far as getting to the rim with their strength and they’ve got both got very good pull-up games. And then Sensabaugh, what he’s doing from the 3-point line, 46% — I think he’s 48 in league — is really, really impressive, and the kid steps up and takes big ones at a crucial time of the game without any fear. 

“Ohio State is a very talented team. They’ve had a couple bad breaks in their last couple games, but you go into the RAC and you take [Rutgers] to overtime, that shows you, certainly, the talent and what they’re capable of doing. So it’s going to be another physical battle for us. We need to respond. We’ve had two in a row now where we got to handed it to us a little bit and we’ve got to show some pride tomorrow, come out and get our fans behind us early.”

One of the bad breaks Ohio State had to deal with was an injury to starting center Zed Key. The 6-foot-8, 255-pound post missed the losses to Maryland and Minnesota and came off the bench in the overtime loss at Rutgers on Sunday. He’s averaging 12.2 points on 61.5% shooting and 7.9 rebounds (including 3.2 on the offensive end).

“He’s actually stepping out and shooting the 3 now,” senior Derrick Walker said. “He’s just really crafty around the post and uses both hands. He’s just another vet, another smart guy that has played in the Big Ten and just knows the ins and outs of playing in the Big Ten. He crashes the boards so obviously boxing him out every possession will be a focus of mine. It’s just going to be a fun matchup. He makes them go, he’s a good leader for them. So we’ll have fun.”

Nebraska (9-9, 2-5) has lost two in a row itself, including just its second home loss of the season the last time the Huskers played at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

“With a team like this, we’ve got to get back on the winning side, we’ve got to start seeing the ball go in our way,” Walker said. “One of our main focuses of the year is protecting home court, and we let a couple get away from us. It stings me and I hope it stings everyone else. So there’s a lot of pressure to win this one just because we’ve got to prove it to ourselves and we’re trying to climb and climb and make it as far as we can for the postseason. So this one’s important. Every game is important in the Big Ten.”

Tipoff on Wednesday is set for 6 p.m. CT on Big Ten Network with Kevin Kugler and Shon Morris on the call. 

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