Just two home games remain in the 2019-20 season for the Huskers. The Huskers might be riding a 12-game losing streak into the first 20-loss season in program history, but the fans have continued to show up in mass at Pinnacle Bank Arena and Coach Fred Hoiberg said he’s hoping the Huskers can reward their support down the final stretch.
“Our fans are absolutely phenomenal,” Hoiberg said. “It’s one of the really appealing things about this job is the fan support. The facilities are as nice as any in the country and then our fan support is just off the charts. With two conference wins, going on a 12-game losing streak, continuing to sell out our building tells you everything you need to know. We really appreciate everything that they’re bringing to us as we continue to go through a tough stretch. We’re very thankful. As you look around the country, not everyone has what we have. We certainly are very thankful for our fan base and we’re going to give everything we can here and continue to play the right way down the stretch.”
The first of those final two home games is on Thursday as the Huskers get another crack at Ohio State. The Buckeyes beat Nebraska in Columbus 80-68 back on Jan. 14. The game was Ohio State’s only win during a seven-game stretch as the Buckeyes fell into a big slump after rising near the top of the polls.
The Buckeyes have rebounded since then, however, winning six of their last eight and are 18-9 overall including 8-8 in Big Ten play.
“We had a very good stretch in the second half,” Hoiberg said. “They shot the ball very well against us, especially [Andre] Wesson hit three 3s on us right out of the chute. We battled back in the second half, did some really good things offensively. But they’re playing great basketball right now. Two guys we didn’t see last time are [Duane] Washington and [Luther] Muhammad; the guys are playing really high-level basketball. [Kaleb] Wesson’s one of the toughest covers in the league with his ability to shoot it form the 3 over 40% and obviously his ability to finish in the paint, being able to seal right around the basket at the front of he rim. It’s a team that’s playing with a lot of confidence right now.”
Washington and Muhammad were both suspended for the previous meeting. Washington is Ohio State’s second-leading scorer at 10.9 points per game and is shooting 38.1% from 3, though he’s come off the bench for more than half his appearances this season. Muhammad has started 24 out of 26 games and is contributing 6.9 points in just under 24 minutes per game.
Kaleb Wesson is leading the team with 14.0 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game and he’s shooting 41.9% from 3. His older brother, Andre, is the team’s best shooter at 44.6% from 3 and he’s averaging 9.1 points.
True freshman DJ Carton, who had 13 points and five assists in the first game against Nebraska, took a leave of absence from the team in late January as he’s struggling with his mental health. Kyle Young, a 6-foot-8 forward, is questionable to play after injuring his ankle against Maryland on Sunday.
After scoring 25 points in the first half of round one against Ohio State, Nebraska put up 43 in the second. The Huskers shot 8-of-13 from 3 after missing eight or their nine attempts in the first half.
“We found the gaps in the defense,” senior guard Haanif Cheatham said. “We drove in and then we kicked out. We found a lot of open corner shots. Once we got into the paint, we saw who was open and kicked it out, made multiple passes and then we just knocked down open shots.”
One of the best on the team at finding gaps in the defense and kicking out to shooters is sophomore point guard Cam Mack, and his status is up in the air. Mack did not make the trip to Champaign for Monday’s loss at Illinois while dealing with an illness.
“Cam practiced today,” Hoiberg said. “He was tired, there’s no doubt about that. But I hope to get him back and hopefully he responds well to the workload that he put in today and we’ll have him back in the lineup tomorrow.”
Hoiberg called him a game-time decision. He’ll consult with the team doctor and trainer on Thursday and see if Mack is able to make it through shoot-around before making the call.
Tipoff at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Thursday is set for 8 p.m. CT on ESPN 2 with Jason Benetti and Robbie Hummel 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.