“You know we had to go out with a bang.”
Those were Lat Mayen’s words after Nebraska closed out its 2020-21 home slate with a dominant 72-51 win over Rutgers on Monday night. Nebraska led by as much as 30 in the second half after thoroughly outplaying the Scarlet Knights in every facet of the game.
“That was a lot of fun,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “It was great to see all of the work that our guys have been putting in pay off in a game like that. It’s the exact effort and consistency you need to compete in this league and win in this league. You have to have 40 minutes of consistent basketball, and I just thought we came out of the gate with such a great mentality of sharing the ball.”
Mayen started the game off with a bang as well, hitting his first seven shots en route to a career-high 25 points. He finished 9-of-11 from the field including 5-of-7 from deep and hit both of his free throws to lead all scorers.
Playing without leading scorer Teddy Allen, who is no longer with the team, Fred Hoiberg went with the same starting lineup that led the Huskers to a win over Minnesota on Saturday’s senior night, and that group set the tone with terrific ball movement early on that lasted throughout the game as Nebraska racked up 19 assists on 28 field goals, shooting 51.9% from the field.
“It was a lot of fun,” Thorir Thorbjarnarson said. “The ball was moving fast, we had a lot of assists. We did a better job with the turnovers, keeping them low. Just getting more shots up instead of careless turnovers, it was fun to see the ball go through the hoop, especially early on. We set the tone and we never let down. That was probably our most complete game.”
Nebraska (7-17, 3-14 Big Ten) outscored Rutgers (13-10, 9-10) from the 3-point line, from the free-throw line, in the paint, in second-chance points and in points off turnovers.
Derrick Walker scored 14 points for the second straight game, shooting 7-of-11 from the field, and he snagged six boards as well. Trey McGowens scored 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting (2-of-2 from 3) and 2-of-2 from the line with five assists and just one turnover. Thorir Thorbjarnarson only scored two points, misfiring on all four of his 3-point attempts, but he led the team with seven rebounds and tied McGowens with five assists.
Rutgers shot 38.6% from the field including 3-of-23 from downtown. Between second-chance points and points off turnovers — two stats that had caused Nebraska some serious problems in recent games — the Huskers outscored the Scarlet Knights 25-18.
“The thing that we did, I thought, better than anything was we were in our gaps, shutting down the paint,” Hoiberg said. “When teams get in the paint, that’s when you get exposed, especially when you don’t have a rim protector back there … We’ve got to keep that thing tight. And then I thought we had good, smart closeouts. We talk about K.Y.P. — know your personnel — and this was a big game for that because they have certain guys that were great drivers and certain guys that you have to have an early shot challenge but ready to guard the bounce. I thought we did a really good job of understanding who we were guarding.”
Mayen came out firing, hitting his first five shots including four 3-pointers to give Nebraska a 16-9 lead five-and-a-half minutes into the game. Nebraska’s first six buckets were all assisted, four of them by Thorbjarnarson.
“It was really good to see,” Thorbjarnarson said. “It got us to a great start, making those shots. I think everybody on the team just got confident with that. Getting buckets on the first few possessions is really good to start the game.”
Nebraska pushed its lead to 12 with a 7-0 run including a layup by Mayen on a great cut that gave him 16, tying his career-high less than eight minutes into the game.
Mayen hit his seventh shot as well, another crafty layup, before taking a seat to get a breather. Trevor Lakes checked in for Mayen after that and after missing his first look from 3, he buried his second to pushed the lead back to double-figures.
Lakes 3 sparked an 18-8 Nebraska run to end the half as the huskers continued to share the ball on offense and cause havoc on defense. Mayen finally missed on his eight attempt of the game, a pull-up 3 in transition, but Dalano Banton got a steal and fed Walker for a layup to close out the first-half scoring and give Nebraska a 43-25 lead at the break.
Mayen put up 20 points in 18 first-half minutes while Walker chipped in eight points.
Nebraska shot 6-of-12 from deep while Rutgers hit just one of its 12 3-point attempts. The Huskers had 14 assists on their 16 buckets and out-scored Rutgers 13-4 in points off turnovers, forcing nine Scarlet knights giveaways while only losing the ball six times themselves.
“We’ve shown flashes and that’s the one thing obviously we’ve been stressing all year — the overall consistency,” Hoiberg sad. “Just the ball movement in the first half kind of set the tone. And then defensively, I really thought the activity that we had with our hands, forcing turnovers and getting deflections, led to several transition opportunities for our team.”
Nebraska scored the first four points of the second half with layups by Thorbjarnarson and McGowens to push the lead to 22, and it was all huskers the rest of the way. Nebraska pushed the lead to 24, then 26, then 30 before the third media timeout.
Rutgers came into Monday allowing 68.7 points per game, yet a dunk by Walker gave the Huskers 70 points with 6:13 to play.
Nebraska didn’t score again until there were 62 seconds left as freshman Elijah Wood stole the ball and took it the other way for a slam, but the Huskers defended well enough and had a big enough cushion that the scoring drought didn’t matter.
Nebraska cooled off from the perimeter but still held Rutgers to 34.5% shooting in the second half to close out its home schedule with back-to-back wins.
“The biggest thing is to win two in a row and to string together back-to-back games, put the big emotional game against Minnesota behind us and find a way to get the energy levels back up where they needed to be tonight to win this game,” Hoiberg said. “We’ll have a huge challenge obviously with Iowa with the way they are playing right now and finish up with Northwestern, who is playing very good at this time. We just want to continue to take positive steps.”
The Huskers will hit the road for a pair of away games to close out the regular season, first at Iowa on Thursday and then at Northwestern on Sunday.
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.