Nebraska closed out its exhibition schedule in Italy with an 84-62 win over Italian Select on Monday with freshman walk-on guard Charlie Easley leading the way.
With Cam Mack not making the trip, Easley has gotten plenty of run in the regular rotation throughout the trip and had knocked down a 3-pointer in each of Nebraska’s first two games, but on Monday he broke out with a team-high 15 points.
Easley led a group of five Huskers in double figures in a balanced attack as nine different Huskers found their way into the scoring column. Two of those double-digit scorers were freshmen in Easley and Kevin Cross, while another freshman in Samari Curtis made plays both for himself and others.
“I think they’re doing a good job,” Hoiberg said about the freshmen. “I thought Samari Curtis was as good as anybody. He played the right way. He got in the paint and he sprayed it out. He found Charlie for some open 3s and that’s kind of what got us going in that second quarter, and then I thought he did a good job again in the second half.
“Kevin, the big thing I told Kevin was go out and play as hard as you can for as long as you can; that might be two minutes, and then we’ll get you a blow. We’ve got to develop the right habits and I thought Kevin was better tonight. I thought he had a very good first game and he finished off the trip much better than he had been the last couple. He does a lot of things at his size with his ability to handle the ball that you can’t teach, so we’re going to need Kevin to go out and play minutes for us.”
Cross, the 6-foot-8, 240-pound froward from Little Rock, Arkansas, finished with 13 points in the team’s first game and 11 on Monday but scored just two points apiece in the middle two games.
Individual scoring: Charlie Easley 15, Dachon Burke 12, Shamiel Stevenson 11, Thorir Thorbjarnarson 11, Kevin Cross 10, Haanif Cheatham 8, Samari Curtis 7, Dalano Banton 6, Jervay Green 4.
“I think we saw good, great, bad and ugly tonight just in this one,” Coach Fred Hoiberg told Ben McLaughlin after the game. “In our guys’ defense a little bit, it was three days off without getting in the gym. We took them to Switzerland today and walked them around, had a nice tour of Lake Lugano.”
Fred Hoiberg rolled out his fourth starting lineup in four games as Jervay Green, Dachon Burke, Shamiel Stevenson, Matej Kavas and Kevin Cross got things started for the Huskers. Kavas is the only player who started all four games and had led the team in 3-pointers made in the first three games, but he was the only scholarship player who didn’t score on Monday.
Nebraska got off to a slow start and fell behind early but Thorir Thorbjarnarson — who got his first in-game dunk down with his parents in the stands in Nebraska’s previous game — scored seven of Nebraska’s first 12 points to get the Huskers going. Then Easley checked in off the bench and sparked a 10-3 run that gave Nebraska the lead for good. The Huskers led 22-18 at the end of the first quarter.
Select pulled within one early in the second but the Huskers ripped off a 6-0 run to pull ahead 28-21. A 7-0 run to end the half gave the Huskers a 44-32 lead at the break as Thorbjarnarson led the way with nine points and Easley added eight.
Nebraska blew the game wide open in the second half, opening the third quarter with nine straight points to push the lead to 21 two-and-a-half minutes into the second half. This time Nebraska didn’t let its foot off the gas as the Huskers scored six of the final eight points of the third to lead 66-42 heading into the fourth.
The Huskers pushed the lead to as much as 30 midway through the fourth before cruising to the 22-point win.
“It was very important [to finish strong],” Easley said. “We’ve been playing well all trip and it’s just good to go out like this and finish 4-0. It’s a good start to going into practices coming up in the fall.”
The trip offered the Huskers a crash course in what it’s like to play for Hoiberg and what it takes to stay on the court for him.
“It was a good trip for us for the fact that we got to spend a lot of time together,” Hoiberg said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, there’s no doubt about that. Like I told the guys in the locker room, I’m going to play the guys that go out there and do it the right way. We had stretches on this trip where we did that. We were in the right spots defensively, we had active hands, we forced turnovers, we got out in transition, but there were too many possessions of coming down without a pass and taking bad shots and trying to do it individually. When we do it as a group, when we trust each other and make the right plays, we have a chance to be a solid team, but we’ve got to buy into it.”
As valuable as the exhibition games were, it was everything else that the trip entailed that Hoiberg was most excited about for his team.
“To me, that’s the most important part of this trip, especially with a group like ours,” Hoiberg said. “If we had 10 guys coming back and the core of the team, then maybe it’s not quite as important. For us, not only are we putting in a completely new system to these guys, but they’re spending a lot of quality time together for the first time. It is important to come out here and have that quality time, to have dinners. You could see them grow, you could see the chemistry get better as we went along on this trip. It was a very quiet group when we first got them all together and it’s fun to see them kind of come out of their shells a little bit and see their personalities.”
The Huskers will head back to Lincoln on Tuesday and will get a chance to return home for a bit before the fall semester starts on Aug. 26.
“I told the guys to enjoy the time with their families,” Hoiberg said. “It’s really the last time they’re going to get extended time at home, but at the same time they’ve got to get in the gym because we’re going to get to work as soon as they get back on campus.”
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.