Nebraska didn’t make a shot from the field in the final five minutes on Tuesday, but the Huskers did their work early and picked up their defense late to close out the nonconference schedule with a 75-65 win against new Division I member Queens.
The game was part of the Battle in the Vault, a three-game event held at Pinnacle Bank Arena and organized by a third party. Announced attendance was 2,523 for a game that was not part of season ticket packages for Nebraska fans.
“We knew going into it that it wasn’t going to be necessarily the same environment, so that was a big focus for us, that we had to generate our own energy,” Sam Griesel said. “I think in the first half, we did a pretty good job of that but in the second half, we were pretty lackluster on just talking and communicating and not generating our own energy. Obviously, bigger crowds help and they can energize us a lot, but we can’t use that as an excuse or anything like that.”
Five Huskers score in double figures as Nebraska shot 52.5% from the field despite a 6-for-23 (26.1%) mark from deep.
Griesel scored a game-high 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting (including a 3-pointer) and 3-of-4 from the foul line. Keisei Tominaga added 15 points off the bench, shooting 6-for-12 from the filed including 3-for-7 from deep. Derrick Walker did a bit of everything with 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting and 1-of-2 from the free-throw line, six rebounds and six assists. Juwan Gary added 11 points on 4-of-7 from the field and 3-of-4 from the line with seven rebounds while Emmanuel Bandoumel chipped in 10 points and eight rebounds.
“That ideally is what needs to happen with our group,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I thought we played unselfishly for the most part. We had a couple of turnovers in transition where I thought we tried to attack in small gaps and attack in a crowd, but when we made simple plays we got good looks. We didn’t obviously shoot the ball great, but I thought we had good efficiency inside the arc.”
Nebraska (7-6) held Queens (9-3) to 33.8% shooting including 24.1% from 3. The Huskers gave up 11 offensive rebounds to a team corralling 37% of its misses, but the Royals only converted them into seven second-chance points.
Nebraska used runs of 11-0, 11-0 and 7-0 to build up a 15-point lead 15 minutes in then traded buckets down the stretch. Queens made plays to end Nebraska runs and keep it somewhat close every time. However, Walker powered through his defender on the block to put the Huskers up 43-26 with 45 seconds left and neither team scored the rest of the way as the Huskers took the 17-point lead into the locker room.
“It was a great start,” Hoiberg said. “It was exactly what we needed, and we talked the importance of that, jumping out to an early double-digit lead. I think it was 11-nothing … They made a little run, but our guys continued to execute. We really worked this last week on getting the ball moving, and I thought we got the ball in the right guys’ hands.
“Derrick and Sam did a terrific job not only scoring it on the block, but also playmaking on the block. Juwan really cut well; that has been a big point of emphasis, to get him diving to the basket. Emmanuel had a couple as well, and when you can get those, it’s just so big for confidence. C.J. [Wilcher] knocked down a couple for us early. Keisei, I think both of those guys hit two in the first half — very important.”
Walker led all scorers with 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the first half. Griesel hit all four of his shots including a 3-pointer to give him nine points. Keisei Tominaga added eight points including a pair of 3s off the bench.
The Cornhuskers out-shot the Royals 56.3% to 25.7% and outscored them in the paint 20 to 10.
Blaise Keita stepped on another player’s foot and rolled his ankle late in the first half and did not return to the game. He finished with two rebounds, a block and an assist in seven minutes. Hoiberg said he’ll be re-evaluated later on.
Queens scored on six of its first seven possessions to cut the deficit down to 12 before Nebraska got a couple of stops and buckets from Breidenbach and Tominaga.
Six Nebraska turnovers in the first eight minutes allowed the Royals to hang around cut the deficit all the way down to nine with just under nine and a half to play.
The Huskers cleaned things up again and stretched the lead back to 15 with a 9-3 run including three layups from Gary. Walker answered. Queens 3 with a put-back of his own miss with just over five minutes to play, which proved to be Nebraska’s final field goal of the game.
The Huskers didn’t score again until a pair of free throws from Griesel with 34 seconds to play, but the lead never dipped below 10 as Nebraska held the Royals scoreless for nearly four minutes before Kenny Dye followed Griesel’s free throws with a bucket in the final 30 second to create the final margin.
“I think the way we played in the first half, especially in that first four minutes, allowed us to finish the game in the second half because we didn’t play the best in the second half,” Walker said. “We came out really slow and not the same way we did in the first half. But know that gave us a lot of big energy, that gave us a lot of confidence to just keep playing harder and just keep trying to make plays.”
Nebraska shot 48.1% from the field in the second half but went just 1-for-8 from deep as the team’s shooting woes continued. Queens cooled off in a hurry after a hot first 15 minutes to shoot 43.3% including 3-of-13 from deep, though the Royals outscored Nebraska 10-5 at the foul line.
Dye, the team’s leading scorer on the season, scored nine of his 13 points in the second half after the Huskers held him to 1-for-7 shooting in the first half.
“It was a good win for us, especially you see this all the time — I think a couple of high-majors lost games today, and it just couldn’t happen,” Hoiberg said. “We needed to get a win to get our guys feeling good about it, get them home for a couple of days, get some well-deserved rest and time with their families and come back on Christmas night for a good workout.”
The Huskers closed out the nonconference with a 7-4 record (not including the two early Big Ten losses) and will now get a few days off before the team regroups to dive into Big Ten play next week. Nebraska’s next game will be at home against Iowa on Dec. 29.
>> NAIA No. 5 Oklahoma Wesleyan 79, RV Concordia (Neb.) 74: The Bulldogs from Seward gave the Eagles a run for their money with some hot shooting in the first half, but the shots stopped falling and Oklahoma Wesleyan used a 26-12 run in the second-half to turn a four-point deficit into an 11-point lead with less than five to play, and the Eagles held on from there.
Oklahoma Wesleyan dominated in the point, outscoring the Bulldogs 56 to 34. Concordia shot 7-of-18 (38.9%) from 3 in the first-half while the Eagles went 0-for-5, giving the Bulldogs a three-point lead at the break. However, Concordia shot 3-for-15 from deep in the second half and finished with 16 turnovers overall as the Eagles took control.
Noah Schutte, a Laurel-Concord-Coleridge graduate, led Concordia with 23 points, six rebounds and four assists. Gage Smith, a Colorado native and fifth-year senior, notched a double-double with 17 points and 15 rebounds. Freshman Payson Gillespie, an Omaha Westside product, chipped in 12 points on 4-of-8 from deep off the bench.
>> Drake 58, No. 15 Mississippi State 52: The Bulldogs in blu handed the Bulldogs in maroon their first loss of the season thanks to a terrific defensive effort and a big second half from a pair of senior guards.
Drake built a nine-point lead early, went cold and fell behind by 10 early in the second half, rallied to make it close then went back and forth with Mississippi State with seven lead changes and a pair of ties in the last 12 minutes. With the game tied, sophomore Tucker DeVries (who grew up in Omaha before his dad, Darian, took the head coaching position at Drake in 2018) dropped in a floater then forced a miss at the rim with verticality on the other end. Penn hit a step-back jumper to put Drake ahead by four with one minute to play.
Mississippi State quickly answered the got a stop but gave the ball right back with an errant pass for a turnover. Penn went 4-for-4 from the foul line in the last 10 seconds to seal the victory.
Penn scored 12 of his game-high 19 points in the second half, shooting 7-of-12 overall (1-of-2 from 3). Sardaar Calhoun scored 14 of his 17 points in he second halfand shot 5-of-11 from 3. DeVries added 15 points and five rebounds despite dealing with foul trouble and plenty of defensive attention. Drake held Mississippi State to 38.5% shooting and forced 17 turnovers.