Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Fred Hoiberg watching the game action on the court against the Indiana during pandemic
Photo Credit: John Peterson

How the Huskers Let One Slip Away at Northwestern

March 08, 2021

Despite trailing by 16 at one point in the first half, Nebraska held a lead in the final minute of Sunday’s game at Northwestern. However, when the final buzzer sounded, the Wildcats led 79-78, sealing Nebraska’s 19th loss of the season.

How’d the Huskers let the game slip through their fingers? Let’s take a closer look to find out.

First, Nebraska led 78-77 with 40 seconds to go after Ryan Young missed the front end of the bonus. Nebraska looked to run clock on the ensuing possession. Inside of 10 seconds, Trey McGowens looked to create something, getting a piece of the paint and coming to a jump stop. He kicked the ball back to Lat Mayen at the top of the key, but instead of taking the open 3, Mayen put the ball on the deck with two seconds on the shot clock and the buzzer sounded before he could get a shot off.

“I haven’t talked to him about it yet, but I’m not sure if he caught it clean or what happened,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said after the game. “I thought Trey made a really good read on it to get him that shot with space. Unfortunately it just didn’t work out for him to get the shot up. I don’t know if he caught it cleanly or not, I’ll go back and look at it, but absolutely, we want Lat, any time he’s got space like that, to shoot the ball.”

Nebraska had a chance to make it a two- or three-point game, but they didn’t execute and had to rely on their defense to get a stop.

Unfortunately, the defensive execution wasn’t any better.

Northwestern got the ball out of a timeout on the baseline with 12.7 on the clock. Ryan Young screened Kobe Webster to spring Boo Buie to receive the ball. Derrick Walker showed then recovered to Young as Webster went underneath and met Buie as he brought the ball up the right sideline.

Young looked to set another screen for Buie just past halfcourt. With the screen so far out, there’s no reason Nebraska should have to switch this. Walker should be calling out the screen in plenty of time for Webster to avoid it.

Webster could have easily gone under the screen and met Buie on the other side like he did before. Honestly, he might have drawn an offensive foul had he tried to do so because Young looked like a pulling guard the way the he was hunting for that screen.

Instead, Webster tried to go over the screen, and he’s not the quickest guy at the point of attack. Walker slides with Buie so Webster switches onto Young. Walker actually does a really good job of staying in front of Buie, and the Northwestern point guard pulls back and gives the ball up. As you can see, though, Mayen saw that his center had switched onto a guard and had dropped all the way into the lane to provide help. That leaves his man, Pete Nance, open at the top of the key. Also note that Webster is on the 6-foot-10 Young because of the prior switch.

Mayen read that Buie was going to pass the ball back to Nance and started to work his way back to him. Nance is shooting 33.3% from 3 in Big Ten play (though he was 1-for-2 in the game) and Nebraska led by one. A shorter closeout was probably the move here, but Mayen went flying out at him and Nance attacked the shoddy closeout.

Nance got Mayen on his hip, and Walker left Buie as soon as he saw Nance get a step on Mayen. Webster also stepped over at the last second.

As you can see, there are three Huskers on Nance, despite the fact that Nance bailed Nebraska out by taking a tough running hook shot type of thing (I’m not even sure what to call it) that allowed Mayen to get back in front and contest the shot. Nance bricked the shot hard off the backboard, but since three defenders went with him it left nobody at the rim to rebound — except Young. Mayen tried to challenge the shot, but Young caught the ball right at the rim and Mayen wasn’t able to force a miss.

Here’s the full clip.

“It stings,” Hoiberg said. “You can see the disappointment in the locker room after fighting all the way back and giving everything we had to have a chance, and then to miss a huge cut-out after doing a great job on the glass for the majority of the game. I thought we had a good defensive possession, Derrick had a great switch, forced the miss, just couldn’t keep the big guy off and had the tip-in.”

Poor communication and bad closeouts were recurring issues throughout the game from what I could see watching on television, and Nebraska simply can’t afford that because the Huskers’ margin for error is rather slim based on the make-up of the roster. Nebraska doesn’t have a lot of quickness on the perimeter outside of Trey McGowens and it doesn’t have a rim protector (Eduardo Andre could get there at some point, but he’s not there yet). The Huskers need to make good decisions and play on a string in order to be effective on defense. They’ve done that for stretches this season, but unfortunately they just didn’t have it on a rare day where perimeter shots were falling at a high rate.

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