LINCOLN, Neb. – Tim Miles expected a stiff challenge from the South Dakota Coyotes, and despite a 26-4 Nebraska start to the game that is exactly what the Huskers got on Saturday afternoon. South Dakota scratched and clawed all the way back to within two with 7:30 to go before Nebraska reasserted control to pull out a 73-61 victory in front of 10,627 at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“I think South Dakota played the way I thought they would,” Miles said. “I knew it’d be difficult to separate. Even at halftime when we were up by 14, it felt like it was a lot tighter than that. We knew it would come and I was really proud of our guys to perform down the stretch. Again, South Dakota competed really hard and out-competed us in the second half for that stretch of time and you know, when you get punched in the mouth, you can’t look at that and say, ‘Oh, gee. What’s going on? Do I have any teeth left?’ You just gotta swallow them, spit the blood out and keep battling.”
The game was a homecoming for former Nebraska assistant and current South Dakota head coach Craig Smith as well as four Nebraska natives on the South Dakota roster.
“First of all, I’ve got to thank the University of Nebraska and certainly Coach Miles for letting us play this game,” Smith said. “It means so much to our program. We have four guys on our roster from Nebraska. He’s a man of his word. I know initially two years ago when we were looking at the position at the University of South Dakota, it’s one thing he brought up, and I think he said we were going to play there [in South Dakota] but he doesn’t remember that part. Our administration remembers that. But seriously, it’s all win for us and not much to gain for Coach Miles and Nebraska. But once he says something, he sticks to his word and it means so much to our team and our program and tonight we got better.”
The 26-4 start saw Nebraska assist on eight of their 10 field goals with just one turnover while holding the Coyotes to 2-of-11 shooting with six turnovers.
“I would say we were just attacking,” sophomore forward Michael Jacobson said. “They started out in a man defense and we knew some things we could exploit just from watching film and whatnot. I thought we did a good job of that right away. We were making some shots. I felt like we came out with a lot of energy.”
Junior point guard Trey Dickerson started making plays and sophomore guard Matt Mooney caught fire to get the South Dakota offense going. The Coyotes cut the deficit all the way down to 12 late in the half, but freshman center Jordy Tshimanga got fouled going for an offensive rebound and hit two bonus free throws with five seconds left to put Nebraska up 45-31 heading into halftime.
The Huskers assisted on 14 of their first-half 16 field goals and shot 6-of-13 from deep.
The teams went back-and-forth for the first nine minutes of the second half and then the Coyotes made their push. Five straight points by Trey Burch-Manning and a pair of Mooney layups sandwiched around a Dickerson 3 made the score 56-54 with 7:30 to play. During that run Nebraska missed three triples and two inside shots and turned the ball over twice against South Dakota’s zone defense.
“Credit to [South Dakota] because they definitely switched defenses and pressed and did some things that kind of got us on our heels and out of our attack mindset,” Jacobson said.
Tai Webster drilled a 3-pointer on the next possession to wake up the Huskers. Nebraska got two big buckets from sophomore forward Jack McVeigh and shot 7-of-8 from the free-throw line to seal the game.
All five starters finished in double figures for the Huskers led by McVeigh’s 16 points and 4-of-9 shooting from deep. McVeigh is now 14-of-28 from 3 at home and 2-of-19 away from the friendly confines of Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Jacobson recorded his first career double-double with 11 points, 10 rebounds and five assists and shot 2-of-3 from deep. Webster added 12 points, a career-high nine assists, six rebounds and two steals. Glynn Watson Jr. and Ed Morrow Jr. chipped in 10 points apiece.
After shooting well in the first half, Nebraska shot just 3-of-10 from the perimeter in the second half. Miles said South Dakota’s zone defense had a lot to do with his team’s shooting struggles.
“When you lose your aggressiveness on zone attack, it really feeds down to how you play defense,” Miles said. “I thought South Dakota was downhill on us for a long time, and of course it cut the lead from whatever to two. Then we made some big shots down the stretch. We have to firm up our zone attack. I have to do a better job of that. We need to firm that up. I thought we did a better job late when we went more of a power game, with two low guys, gave us a chance for a couple offensive rebounds. Then we made a couple 3s. We’re going to have to make threes. We’re going to have to get guys ready to make 3s. And that’s part of the deal, and I think we will.”
Nebraska also battled a much smaller South Dakota team to a draw on the glass at 40 rebounds apiece.
“I feel like we did a horrible job on the boards today,” Morrow said. “Based on our match-ups, we came out prepared, we were expecting to do way better than that, and we sort of just let the other team get the best of us on the boards.”
Mooney finished with 18 points to lead the Coyotes. Lincoln North star alumnus and South Dakota freshman point guard Triston Simpson played nine minutes off the bench and grabbed two rebounds and a steal and dished out one assist.
With the Coyotes in the rear-view mirror, Nebraska can turn its sights toward its next opponent – No. 10 Creighton. However, the Bluejays have been on the mind of at least one player for a while.
“I’ve been waiting for them for a long time now,” said Webster, who is 0-3 against Creighton in his career. “Ever since we lost out there and got embarrassed by them [last year] … I don’t want to go out four years [having] never beaten them.”
Tip-off for Creighton and Nebraska at Pinnacle Bank Arena is set for 8 p.m. on Wednesday.
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.