Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Huskers Ready to Battle Queens in the Vault

December 20, 2022

Fred Hoiberg’s squad will close out the nonconference slate on Tuesday with a special home game in which Nebraska technically isn’t the host.

Pinnacle Bank Arena will hold a three-game event called Battle in the Vault on Thursday. Nebraska will take on Queens University, a new NCAA Division I member, in the event’s nightcap.

“It’s a unique game,” Hoiberg said on Monday. “Three-games slate, not part of the season ticket package, so hopefully we get a good crowd in there. I know we’re coming off a very disappointing game against Kansas State after a great week, and this game has a way of humbling you real quick … We’ve just got to find a way to bounce back, get that energy back, do the little things that have allowed us to have some success this season, get our identity back on that end of the floor.”

The first game of the day will feature two NAIA teams in No. 5 Oklahoma Wesleyan and Concordia (Nebraska), just outside the poll at No. 26. Concordia — located in Seward, Nebraska — is 9-3 and loaded with in-state players led by leading scorer Noah Schutte, a Laurel-Concord-Coleridge graduate averaging 17.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists whole shooting 61.5% from the field including 55.2% from 3.

Game two features preseason Missouri Valley favorite Drake (8-3) against unbeaten and 15th-ranked Mississippi State. Drake’s top player is sophomore Tucker DeVries, who grew up in Omaha before moving to Iowa when his dad, Darian DeVries, left Greg McDermott’s staff at Creighton to become Drake’s head coach. The younger DeVries is averaging 18.8 points and 5.5 rebounds while shooting 479% from the field including 36% from deep.

Queens, out of Charlotte, North Carolina, is 9-2 in its first season at the Division I level and ranked 188th in KenPom, more than 100 spots higher than any of Nebraska’s previous buy-game opponents.

“High level game right before ours with Drake and Mississippi State, and then get the opportunity to go out for us and play a very good team that has a lot of talent,” Hoiberg said. “They shoot the heck out of the ball; they make over nine 3s a game. The thing that I’ve been really impressed with is the relentlessness on the glass; they’re one of the top teams in the country in offensive rebound percentage, pretty close, actually, to Purdue. Purdue got like 39% of their misses; this team gets 36% of its misses back, and [Gavin] Rains gets over four offensive rebounds a game. So it’s going to be a challenge. Hopefully we’ll have good support there and finish off the nonconference schedule well.”

Queens is 17th in offensive rebounding rate led by the 6-foot-7 Rains who is corralling 4.1 offensive caroms and 10.7 rebounds per game overall to go with 7.7 points per game. It’s a slightly above-average 3-point shooting team at 34.6%, but it attempts a lot of them (26.3 per game, 40th).

Kenny Dye, a 6-foot senior guard, is leading the team with 17.5 points and 4.2 assist while shooting 50.4% from the field (38.9% from 3). AJ McKee, a 6-foot-2 sophomore guard, is second at 12.7 points per game while three others average between 8.8 and 9.9 points.

Queens is a top-50 team nationally in free-throw rate, while Nebraska is sixth in the country in forcing teams to score from the field. Queens is also 319th in the county in turnover rate, so Hoiberg wants to see a higher level of aggressiveness on Tuesday while still remaining disciplined.

“We’ve done a solid job all year of defending without fouling, really, one of the top teams in the country at doing that,” Hoiberg said. “We just have to have better hand activity. Our hands were nonexistent against the length of Kansas State; they just picked us apart with a lot of that.”

Hoiberg said he held perhaps his longest film session of the season following Nebraska’s 71-56 loss to Kansas State on Saturday. He saw plenty of issues to address on both sides of the ball as the team failed to do the little things and got out-toughed for the first time all year. 

“We just came back yesterday with really good intensity and we need to follow that up with a good day today and then carry that over into the game for 40 minutes, because I know this: this team is not intimidated by anybody,” Hoiberg said. “They are used to winning. They won 30 games a year ago and are off to a 9-2 start and have won some very impressive games early in the season. So we’re going to have to be on point, put the last game behind us and again, hopefully finish off this one well heading into the break.”

The lone bright spot from the Kansas State game was the play of a pair of underclassmen off the bench. Wilhelm Breidenbach posted a new career-high 13 points while freshman Jamarques Lawrence added nine points including a pair of triples. Breidenbach has been a rotation player all season, but Lawrence has been seeing the floor more in recent games and Saturday could earn him a more consistent role moving forward.

“Jamarques in particular, he’s been practicing well and really is on the floor because of his defense,” Hoiberg said. “When you have a guy that can pick up the ball, that allows Emmanuel [Bandoumel] to use his versatility, maybe on one of the other players. Jamarques, it was good to see him make shots because that’s really what he is, that’s one of the things we loved about him. But he’s really picked things up defensively and he gave us a boost, I thought, on both ends the other night, hitting that big 3 late in the game, did a great job of running down the floor getting to the corner — which we didn’t do that all night long — and hit a shot to cut the lead to seven. That’s pretty big for a freshman in that type of environment to play with that kind of confidence.

“When you see that ball go in a basket, that does wonders for your confidence, so he and Wilhelm hopefully can build off what they did in Kansas City, play well tomorrow and then hopefully carry that on for the rest of the year.”

Concordia and Oklahoma Wesleyan tip things off at 1 p.m. CT. Drake and Mississippi State will follow at 4 p.m. Nebraska and Queens will round out the day at 6:30 p.m., or 30 minutes after the conclusion of game two. Nebraska season-ticket holders will have to purchase tickets separate from their packages, but the ticket is good for all three games. Nebraska’s game will be available to stream on Big Ten Plus. 

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