Nebraska traded punches with Iowa for 34 minutes on Friday night, but the Hawkeyes delivered a knockout blow late with an 11-0 run and Nebraska couldn’t recover in an 88-78 Hawkeye win.
The win was the first for the Hawkeyes in Lincoln since the 2014-15 season and closed out the regular season for Nebraska at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“I thought our fight was phenomenal, really all game long,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We’ve talked about this all year long, we have those three-, four-minute stretches where teams go on those runs against us. Tonight had nothing to do with effort. We had a couple turnovers — we’d done a pretty solid job all game long taking care of the basketball and then we go three possessions in a row and that’s when they stretch it and open up the lead. But the fight was there, there’s no doubt about that. So I was proud of the guys for coming out there in the last home game.”
The Huskers (7-21,1-16 Big Ten) shot 51.8% from the field including 8-of-18 from 3 and 80% from the free-throw line with 14 assists and just 10 turnovers in one of their more efficient performances of the season, but they couldn’t get enough stops to hang with the Hawkeyes. Iowa (20-8, 10-7) shot 50% from the field with nine 3s and converted 12 offensive rebounds in 19 second-chance points.
“Offensive rebounds, obviously, were a huge factor in the second half, 19 to five in second-chance points,” Hoiberg said. “I thought we’d had our two best rebounding games the previous two. I thought we were solid in the first half, and then it’s what they’ve done. They had 20 of them, offensive rebounds, against Ohio State; had double-digit against both Michigan and Michigan State. So they’ve been very good, very effective in creating second-chance opportunities and when you give them that many extra chances, they’re going to sting you because of how high-powered their offense is, top five in the nation in that in that category. So you’ve got to find a way to finish off the possession.”
Alonzo Verge Jr. led the Huskers with 18 points on 50% shooting, seven assists and five rebounds in his final home game in Lincoln. C.J. Wilcher provided a spark off the bench with 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting (2-of-4 from 3), Bryce McGowens added 13 points and Derrick Walker chipped in 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting and eight rebounds.
The Hawkeyes had six players score in double figures led by sophomore Tony Perkins with a career-high 20 on 8-of-10 shooting. After giving up a career-high 37 points to Keegan Murray in Iowa City, the Huskers limited him to 15 on 6-of-13 shooting on Friday, but others stepped up.
“Guys that we were OK with shooting, they stung us tonight,” Hoiberg said. “Perkins hadn’t made a 3 in a long time and he goes out there and looks like he’s Ray Allen. Connor McCaffrey goes 3-for-3. You have to devise a game plan and you can’t take everything away. With Murray, with the run that he’s been on, having about a 30-point-per-game month, it was a lot designed to have those muck guys that get in the paint and close late to the shooter. I thought we did a phenomenal job on [Jordan] Bohannon; he got some free throws, obviously, late, but Trey [McGowens] was great on him. So give those guys credit, their guys stepped up and made big plays and Perkins goes for 20, and obviously that was the difference.”
The Huskers brought the energy on the defensive end of the floor from the opening tip, forcing turnovers on three of Iowa’s first four possessions. The offense took a bit longer to get going, however, and the Hawkeyes pulled ahead by as much as four early.
However, the Huskers finally got going behind Verge’s playmaking and Walker’s finishing. Nebraska converted five straight shots to pull ahead 17-14 at the under-12 timeout. Walker had eight of those points while Verge dished out three assists early, including an alley-oop to Walker to cap a 9-2 run.
The lead changed hands a couple of times as Trey McGowens answered a Connor McCaffery 3 with a triple of his own, and the Huskers held Iowa scoreless for nearly three minutes as they pulled ahead 25-19.
Nebraska pushed the lead to seven with a Kobe Webster 3-pointer, but McCaffery answered with a 3 of his own then Walker picked up his second foul near the six-minute mark and took a seat for the rest of the half. Iowa chipped away at the lead and eventually took it back with another McCaffery 3, but Verge answered 15 seconds later with a layup. Neither side scored again until a Flip Rebraca bunny as time expired that gave the Hawkeyes a 36-35 lead at halftime.
Nebraska shot 51.9% in the first half including 4-of-9 from 3. The Huskers doubled up the Hawkeyes in the paint, 20 to 10. Iowa shot 43.3% but 6-of-13 from deep led by McCaffery’s 3-for-3 half off the bench. Trey McGowens led Nebraska with nine points on 4-of-6 shooting. The Huskers held Murray to four points on 1-of-6 shooting after he dropped 24 on them in the first half of their previous meeting.
“I thought in the first half the energy was off the charts,” Hoiberg said. “I thought we went out and really guarded, held them to 43% and for the most part, until about the last minute and a half, had a nice lead.”
Bryce McGowens got going in the second half after a quiet first, scoring nine of Nebraska’s first 11 points, and the Huskers cut the deficit all the way down to one at 50-49 after a Wilcher 3. Iowa responded with an 8-2 run capped by a Keegan Murray dunk, but the Huskers settled back in and battled back to within two after a Wilcher 3-pointer.
The Hawkeyes delivered the knockout blow at that point, however, scoring 11 straight as Nebraska’s offense fell apart. The Huskers turned the ball over three times and missed six straight shots as Iowa built a 69-56 lead with six-and-a-half minutes to play.
Verge tried to get Nebraska back in the game, scoring eight of the Huskers’ next 11 points, but that only trimmed the deficit to eight as they struggled to get enough stops.
“I felt like I had it kind of going and I was trying to just get the ball and get my teammates involved and go downhill,” Verge said. “I noticed they couldn’t stop me from going downhill so I was just trying to go downhill and and make the best play .. So I felt like it was rolling smooth. We were just going tit for tat, we really couldn’t get a stop. We’d get a stop at eight but we couldn’t get another stop so we can get I to six.”
The deficit bounced between nine and 11 until a bunny from Walker — his first points since the alley-oop before the second first-half media timeout — and a layup from Verge cut it to seven with 31 seconds left, but Iowa went 7-of-8 from the foul line in the final 30 seconds to put the game away.
Nebraska shot 51.7% from the field and 9-of-10 from the line in the second half, but Iowa shot 56.3% and 13-of-20 from the charity stripe and the Hawkeyes evened up the points in the paint.
“The crowd was absolutely phenomenal,” Hoiberg said. “We’re so thankful and blessed to have a group that continues to come out and support our team as poorly as this season went. There are very few schools that would have this type of support if you had the type of season that we did. They won’t show up. But we filled the building tonight. They’ve been there for us all year long and I can’t tell you how much that means and how appreciative we are.”
The Huskers will close out the regular season with three straight road games starting with a trip to Penn State on Sunday. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. CT on Big Ten Network.
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.