Trey McGowens’ return provided a spark for the Huskers, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Trayce Jackson-Davis’ dominance as the All-Big Ten performer led Indiana to its first true road win of the season at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Monday night.
The Hoosiers led for all but 44 seconds en route to a 78-71 victory in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Game. Both teams wore special MLK-inspired DREAM warm-ups prior to the game as a show of unity to honor Dr. King and his legacy.
“It’s an absolute honor to play on Martin Luther King Jr. Day,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I’ve been very fortunate over the course of my career as a player playing on this day as a coach in the NBA, playing on this day. And it’s special. It’s an absolute honor to play on this day, understanding what this great man, meant to our history and means or history. There’s a lot of work to be done, obviously, for what his vision was and what his message was, but for our players, it’s an honor to be able to go out there and play on this day and honor a great man.”
The Huskers (6-13, 0-8 Big Ten) held Jackson-Davis mostly in check in the first half of their first meeting back in December, but they had no answer for him in round two as he finished with a game-high 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting and 12 rebounds. Indiana is another game in a long stretch for the Huskers where they’ve been in game late but haven’t been able to get over the hump. McGowens said the key is 40 minutes of execution.
“In the first half, they shot 62% from the field,” McGowens said.” Second half, we held them to 45%. So really just putting it together, locking in on our game plan. We kept letting Trayce Jackson-Davis get to his left hand and the game plan was to make him finish over his left shoulder with his right hand, and we didn’t do that until late. So I think thing that was the biggest thing.”
McGowens played 21 minutes in his first action since breaking his foot against Creighton on Nov. 16, and the Huskers outscored the Hoosiers by four with him on the floor. He finished with seven points on 1-of-2 from 3 and 4-of-4 from the line, two steals, two rebounds, one assist and one turnover.
“Having Trey out there was a great lift,” Hoiberg said. “You see how much better we are with his intensity, with his leadership, with his passion on the defensive end of the floor … Trey just gives us a whole different element out there being able to put him either on the ball or on the other team’s best player. That’s going to be huge for us moving forward. For Trey, as I talked to him and having an opportunity in my career to come back from a long layoff, it’s all about going out there and letting the game come to you and making simple plays and I thought Trey did a great job of that tonight.”
Bryce McGowens led the Huskers with 20 points on 6-of-13 from the field (1-of-4 from 3) and 7-of-8 from the free-throw line. Alonzo Verge Jr. added 19 points on 7-of-15 shooting (1-of-2 from 3) and 4-of-4 from the line, four assists and four steals. Foul trouble and Indiana’s defense limited Derrick Walker to four points and 19 minutes.
The Huskers shot 47.1% from the field (35.3% from 3) and 81% from the free-throw line, but they turned the ball over 13 times and recorded just 11 assists.
Indiana (13-4, 4-3) shot 54% from the field (30.8% from 3) and 71.4% from the foul line. Race Thompson added 12 points and seven boards while Jordan Geronimo chipped in 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting and eight rebounds off the bench.
The Huskers hit their first three 3-pointers, including two from Lat Mayen, but they struggled to get stops on the other end as the Hoosiers used a 6-0 spurt to open up a 17-9 lead.
Trey McGowens checked in for the first time at the under-16 timeout to a roar from the crowd, and he swished his first shot of the day a few minutes later, a 3 from the right wing to pull the Huskers within three. It was his first 3-point attempt of the season.
“It felt good, because I definitely missed being out there,” McGowens said. “Basketball is what I’ve really done my whole life. My life pretty much revolves around basketball, in the gym two, three times a day. Once you lose that, it just makes you appreciate it even more. They’ve been telling me stay out of the gym, I’ve been in the gym too much, but I was kind of away from it so long that I just couldn’t wait to get back.”
Nebraska went nearly three minutes without scoring as Walker picked up his second foul on a three-point play by Trey Galloway that pushed Indiana’s lead to seven. Eduardo Andre replaced Walker and Verge found him for a dunk on the next possession, Nebraska’s first 2-point field goal of the game at the 9:45 mark.
The Huskers traded scores (including another Andre dunk) until a 6-1 spurt by the Hoosiers — capped by an alley-oop to Jackson-Davis after a live-ball turnover — pushed the lead to 10 and brought Trey McGowens in for his second stint.
The elder McGowens helped stabilize thing a bit with a couple of trips to the free-throw line as the Huskers stopped the bleeding, then back-to-back steals from Verge led to layups the other way to cut into the deficit, then a three-point play from Verge and a 3 from Bryce McGowens put another dent in the lead.
However, Jackson-Davis scored just before the buzzer to give Indiana a 45-39 lead at halftime. He put up a game-high 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting and 2-of-4 from the line in the first 20 minutes.
The first half included 24 fouls and 28 free throws as nine players picked up two fouls (five Hoosiers and four Huskers) including six starters.
Nebraska shot 5-of-10 from 3 while the Hoosiers hit just one of their seven attempts, but Indiana shot 15-of-19 inside the arc and out-scored Nebraska 22–12 in the paint.
Indiana opened the second half with a 3 from Parker Stewart but missed its next five shots from the field. Nebraska used a couple of buckets inside to cut the deficit to five, then later got it down to four twice, but each time the Hoosiers had an answer.
A personal 6-0 run from Jackson-Davis pushed the lead back to 10 once again and the closest the Huskers got was six almost the rest of the way. Jackson-Davis picked up his fourth foul with 7:37 to go and spent a lot of time on the bench, but the Huskers couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity. Each time they had a chance to cut into it even more, they came up with an empty possession on offense.
“We cut it to four on a couple of occasions, we just could not get over the hump,” Hoiberg said. “We couldn’t get that big stop, we couldn’t get the basket to cut it to a single-possession game. I just I don’t think we ever got there. You’ve got to find a way to buckle down and get that stop, make the right play. We had a couple plays in the lane to get right to the basket and we tried to kick it out, turned it over, and we had three of those where we had opportunities. We missed a couple right there at the rim. You’ve got to capitalize, you’ve got to finish in order to get over the hump and win these games. You’ve got to be able to make those plays when they present themselves.”
A layup from Verge did cut it to five, but it came with five seconds left and the Hoosiers hit two free throws to create the final margin. The final bucket gave Verge 1,000 points for his career, including his 729 points from his two seasons at Arizona State.
Nebraska won the paint battle in the second half, 22 to 14, but the Huskers cooled off from deep (1-of-7) while the Hoosiers knocked down three triples to maintain their advantage.
The Huskers will hit the road again later this week for another rematch as they take on Ohio State in Columbus on Saturday.
“We’ve got a great opportunity this week to have good practice time,” Hoiberg said. “Our guys start school tomorrow, it’s their mandatory off day, but then we get three really good opportunities to practice which we haven’t had a lot because of either we didn’t get back from West Lafayette because of a flight delay or a mechanical issue and with games being right on top of each other. So we’ll get three good days of practice heading into Ohio State and hopefully be able to clean some things up.”
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.