LINCOLN, Neb. — The Huskers gave their fans plenty to be worried about for the second straight game, but a surprise performance by one freshman and a strong team effort was enough for the Huskers (6-6) to survive 81-76 at home against Southern (4-8).
Freshman forward Jeriah Horne exploded for a career-high 18 points in 18 minutes off the bench. Horne had played just 20 minutes in the previous six games combined and had scored 14 points in his career heading into Tuesday night’s performance.
“We knew we had to get the win and that’s what we got,” sophomore point guard Glynn Watson Jr. said. “We executed, we played like Coach Miles wanted us to play, we made some mistakes but we still did some good things and Jeriah made some big plays and made some big shots for us also.”
Chief among those mistakes on the offensive end were nine first-half turnovers which kept the Huskers — whose lead grew to as much as nine points four different times — from pulling away. A turnover by Watson with four seconds left in the first half gave the Jaguars a chance to score heading into the break. Brendon Gangway raced down court and threw up a circus shot from about 27 feet that banked in as the buzzer sounded, slicing a seven-point lead down the four.
The Huskers led 40-36 at halftime. Senior guard Tai Webster, who had reached double figures in each of the team’s first 11 games, was held scoreless in the first half. However, in addition to Horne — who hit both of his 3-point attempts in the half — Nebraska’s two other freshmen made an impact. Center Jordy Tshimanga scored six points and grabbed five rebounds in nine minutes, while forward Isaiah Roby scored four points, grabbed three rebounds and blocked one shot in 11 minutes. The were +10 and +13, respectively, while four of the starters were negative in plus/minus.
“We had a really hard practice yesterday where we challenged everybody,” Coach Tim Miles said. “No one in particular and in film today I thought we were to the point again on just watching practice yesterday and they responded. All three of [the freshmen] played well and gave us a lot of help.”
The Jaguars carried over their momentum form the end of the first half into the second, using a 9-1 run to take a 45-41 lead just over four minutes into the half. Nebraska responded with a 10-2 run of its own to jump back ahead 51-47. Southern tied it a couple times, but Nebraska never fell behind again.
The Huskers’ lead hit double-digits for the first and only time with 2:29 to play at 77-67, but a missed shot by Watson and a turnover by Webster allowed the Jaguars to cut the deficit to four with 41 seconds to play.
Needing a shot to stem the tide, the Huskers ran down the clock and swung the ball around until it reached Horne’s hands. With just a couple seconds on the clock, Horne dribbled once then pulled up for an open 16-foot pull-up that was nothing but net.
“I knew the shot clock was running down, and it was a wide-open shot, and I’ve shot that at practice multiple times, so it felt natural,” Horne said.
The shot’s importance magnified when Emanuel Shepard hit a 3-pointer with two seconds left. A third consecutive empty trip by the Huskers could have given the Jaguars a chance to tie or take the lead at the buzzer.
Watson hit a pair of free throws to ice the game.
Horne shot 7-of-9 from the field, including 4-of-6 from deep. As a team, the Huskers had made just three triples in each of the team’s last three games — all losses. Horne was 2-of-10 from deep heading into the game and his minutes had been spotty at best.
“I think just staying with it in practice and trying to get better and better,” Horne said about what led to his success. “My teammates were with me the whole way, and they can share that. And I stayed engaged, in practice and everywhere so whenever I got my chance I was ready for it … I’m just used to playing in the system. Coach Miles has been telling me to look for the shot and to take it when I know I have it open, and I’m glad that he trusted me to shoot the wide open shot.”
Anton Gill also had a strong game off the bench, tying his high as a Husker with 10 points on 3-of-5 shooting, including 2-of-3 from deep.
“I just tried to stick with it, to stay aggressive and be ready,” Gill said. “That was the biggest thing for me, staying with it. For me I just wanted to play as hard as I could and just have fun. I think I have been stressing a bit this year. So I just told myself whatever happens, happens, just go out there and play the way you know how to play and that’s what I tried to do.”
In total, the Nebraska bench accounted for a season-high 38 points. As for the starters, Watson finished with 13 points and Webster rallied in the second half to keep his streak alive with 10 points, five rebounds and five assists.
“I’m proud of these guys,” Miles said. “I thought they played hard, and we played with better pace. We withstood a very good effort by an excellent Southern team. They have a lot of potential to make the NCAA tournament. Quite frankly our bench was excellent. They were 14-for-25 and when you see a guy like Jeriah Horne gets 18 and guard Anton Gill gets 10, those two guys go 6-for-9 from 3. That’s a great deal of help for our offense.”
Nebraska shot 48.2 percent from the field for the game, but just 31.8 percent from deep. Horne, Gill and Watson were 7-of-10, while the rest of the team shot 0-of-12. Nebraska left a lot of points at the free-throw line, shooting 20-of-30, but they nearly tripled Southern in attempts and more than double them in makes as the Jaguars went 9-of-11. After holding Southern to 37.1 percent from the field in the first half, they surrendered 54.8 percent in the second half. Southern out-rebounded Nebraska 36-34 but turned the ball over two more times.
Four of Southern’s starters finished with double-figure points led by Tre’lun Banks’ 16 and four assists.
The Huskers will get a week off to celebrate the holidays before they hit the road to open Big Ten play at Indiana on Dec. 28. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m.
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.