The Creighton-Nebraska game is annually one of the most anticipated games of the season for fans on both sides, and because of the Gavitt Games, that game has arrived sooner than normal.
The Huskers (1-1) will host the Bluejays (2-0) at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Tuesday night as part of the annual challenge pitting Big East and Big Ten teams against each other.
“It’s one of the great things about about sports is rivalry games,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Even though I’ve only been a part of this one for a couple years, I’ve been a part of great one growing up in Ames, playing against Iowa. Those were always huge games for us and huge games for them, and the state gets really jacked up for those contests. One year without fans is obviously very strange, playing both games so far on the road — which we’re very appreciative to Coach Mac for changing up the schedule a little bit where we wouldn’t have played in an empty arena and then go back there with fans again — so really excited about this opportunity.
“We’ll learn a lot about ourselves in this game. They’re going to test us in a lot of ways. I’ve been very impressed with the young talent that that they got on their roster and we just need to go out and play with great effort for 40 minutes. We do that we’ll have a chance.”
Nebraska was set to host the game last year, but because of the pandemic and fan limitations in arenas, Creighton coach Greg McDermott agreed to play the game in Omaha for the second straight year, allowing Nebraska to play the rivalry in front of fans in Lincoln this year.
Trey McGowens played in that game a year ago but is looking forward to experiencing the rivalry with fans in the building for the first time.
“Just being here a year into this rivalry is different,” McGowens said. “This year definitely hits way different because I feel like I understand a little bit now just being here a whole year … I’ve just been super excited, and I’m trying to get the younger guys excited as well. So I feel like they understand how important this game is for us … We’re the two big schools in Nebraska, so we kind of share fans. Jayskers, I guess. So we’ve got to try to bring it home for Husker fans.”
The Huskers stumbled out of the gates in their season opener against Western Illinois then struggled a bit again in the first half of game two against Sam Houston, but they figured some things out and closed the game strong to secure their first win. Meanwhile, Creighton is 2-0 with wins over Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Kennesaw State, but they’ve faced their own struggles, most notably 8-of-44 (18.2%) shooting from deep.
Creighton replaced all five starters from a year ago and features a pair of freshmen in its first five and three more off the bench. Omaha Burke product Shereef Mitchell has the most experience in a Creighton uniform, but he’s working his way back from injury and hasn’t played yet this season.
“We’re both still, I think, trying to find ourselves a little bit just with the early season contests, with a lot of new faces out there playing together for the first time in real game action, so it’s a unique time as far as when you play these games, as far as timing goes,” Hoiberg said. “I think we’ve got a lot of work, talking about ourselves, right now that we need to get better with and hopefully we can start carrying that over into the game start tomorrow night.”
Alex O’Connell is leading the Bluejays with 16.5 points per game on 50% shooting and is pulling down 7.5 rebounds per game from the wing. Division II Northwest Missouri State transfer Ryan Hawkins is averaging a double-double with 11.0 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. Freshman Ryan Nembhard is starting at the point and averaged 13.0 points, 6.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds in his first two games to earn Big East Freshman of the Week honors.
Nebraska has its own freshman of the week as Bryce McGowens averaged 27.0 points and 5.5 rebounds while shooting 51.6% from the field, 38.5% from 3 and 81% from the free-throw line in his first two games as a Husker. He’s the first Cornhusker to win Big Ten Freshman of the Week since Glynn Watson Jr. in 2016.
“Bryce is the kind of person who’s kind of hard on himself as well,” Trey McGowens said. “After the first game, we kind of talked, he was still frustrated, because he felt like he missed a lot of shots that he usually makes. Just wanting to be better every day and just trying to outdo yourself, I feel like that’s why he’s the kind of person he is. He just pushes himself so hard to just be better and he’ll do what he needs to do to help this team win.”
After a 1-for-6 debut, Bryce McGowens nailed four of his seven 3-point attempts en route to a 29-point performance against Sam Houston. However, the rest of the Huskers are a combined 4-of-29 from deep this season.
While the shooting hasn’t come around yet, Nebraska showed significant improvement on the defensive glass for much of the game against Sam Houston, something Hoiberg put an emphasis on heading in. For Tuesday, transition is at the top of the scouting report. Nearly a quarter of Creighton’s possessions this season have been transition, according to Synergy.
“We’re going to have to come out and not get shocked by their speed,” Hoiberg said. “They’re really good when they get out in transition. We have to limit those opportunities. But it can’t take two minutes into the game and realize, ‘Now we’ve got to go.’ It’s got to be right from the tip. We have to be ready to go and hopefully play consistent for 40.”
One of the storylines that emerged from the Sam Houston game was the emergence of second-year center Eduardo Andre, who did not play against Western Illinois. He put up 11 points and seven rebounds, both career highs, in 15 minutes off the bench.
“I said this after the game the other night that he was, I thought, the key to us winning that game,” Hoiberg said. “He gave us such a great spark off the bench. He’ll absolutely be in our rotation here moving forward. For Eduardo, it’s all about making effort plays, not trying to do too much out there. He’s really bought into that these last couple of weeks, heading into game action. When he keeps it simple he’s a very effective player, did a good job protecting the rim for us, had a couple blocks, had a couple challenges at the rim, which again, created a miss or blocked shot which got us out in transition as well. I really thought he changed ends well. He got out and ran in transition, had the big and-one dunk that I thought was a huge momentum-shifter in that game.”
Tipoff on Tuesday is set for 6 p.m. on FS1 featuring Kevin Kugler and Nick Bahe on the call.
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.