For everyone other than Alonzo Verge Jr., Nebraska’s hoop looked to be smaller than a thimble on Tuesday night. On the other end, the basket seemed to be a mile wide for the Wolverines.
The result was Nebraska’s worst loss of the season — and second-worst home loss since the Huskers moved to Pinnacle Bank Arena — as Michigan smacked the Huskers 102-67.
“I’ve never been a part of one like this where we just quit competing, and it’s so discouraging,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Missed shots early affected our energy all over the floor. After playing a game last week, a couple days ago in Indiana, where the shot wasn’t falling in, but man we competed and guarded and rebounded and followed the game plan. Today we were completely out of it. It’s embarrassing, it’s humiliating and we’ve got to find a way to fix it. But it’s very discouraging, what I saw out there as a a group collectively.”
Verge finished with 31 points on 12-of-21 from the field (1-of-3 from 3) and 6-of-6 from the free-throw line, eight rebounds and three assists. The rest of the Huskers combined for 36 points on 11-of-51 from the field (4-of-32 from deep) and 10-of-15 from the foul line with three assists.
Nebraska set new season lows with 31.9% shooting from the field and 14.3% shooting from deep (the worst of the Hoiberg era in Lincoln).
Conversely, the Wolverines tied the arena record for made 3-pointers, shooting 15-of-32 (46.9%), and they added 42 points in the paint as well.
“Just mental mistakes,” Derrick Walker said. “We’ve been having the same defense since we’ve been there, so it’s just a lot of locking in on that defensive end and mentally carrying out the game and knowing your job on defense. We had a lot of mental mistakes. We took a lot of OK shots that led to a lot of transition 3s. We didn’t get back in transition sometimes. So there’s a lot that went into them making so many 3s that they did today.”
Keisei Tominaga, who made his first career start against Indiana and didn’t hit a 3-pointer until the final minute, started again and hit two of his first three against the Wolverines for Nebraska’s first six points.
Michigan was without 5-star freshman Moussa Diabate, who didn’t make the trip because of a non-COVID-19 illness. Brandon Johns Jr. started in Diabate’s place and tied his season-high of seven points before the first media timeout as Michigan jumped out to a 13-8 lead.
The Huskers tied it up with a Verge put-back and a Lat Mayen 3, but Michigan started to play through Dickinson more and more and it produced a 13-2 run including seven points from Dickinson plus a double-team kick-out to Terrance Williams II for a 3.
Bryce McGowens ended the run with his first bucket, a three-point play, but the Wolverines hit the Huskers with another 13-2 run including three more triples, and things continued to snowball from there.
The Huskers hit three of their first six 3-pointers, then missed their last 12 of the first half. Michigan hit nine of its first 18 3-pointers, and the Wolverines’ lead swelled to 21 late in the first half. An assist and then a layup by Verge cut it to 17, but Johns drew a foul on a rebound with 0.2 on the clock and hit both bonus free throws to give the Wolverines a 51-32 lead at halftime.
“It starts shoot-around,” Walker said. “Just focus on the little things. Obviously, we didn’t come out, as a team, how we should have. There was no energy between us and we’ve got to be better than that. That was embarrassing for us and we know that and now we have to do everything we can to fix it.”
Verge led Nebraska in points (14), rebounds (four) and assists (three) while shooting 6-of-11 from the field. The rest of the Huskers combined to shoot 7-of-26.
Verge continued to attack the basket in the second half, scoring eight of Nebraska’s first 12 points to pull the Huskers within 15.
“I thought Alonzo scored it well,” Hoiberg said. “I thought he had some pop to him out there. I thought he made really good plays early trying to get other guys involved and obviously he scored the ball very well and efficiently in the paint. Again, you’ve just got to keep kicking them out. If you make those shots early, who knows, maybe it’s a completely different game as far as our energy is concerned? But it just completely deflated us tonight.”
Verge finally snapped Nebraska’s streak of consecutive missed 3s at 17, but his triple came in between two 3s from Eli Brooks, Michigan’s best shooter who had missed hist first six.
The deficit continued to swell from there, hitting 22 before the under-12 timeout, then 30 before the under-8, when droves of fans began to head for the exits.
“As competitors, as basketball players, as humans, you look at these games and we should be licking our chops, we should be happy, we should be ready to play, and that wasn’t the case tonight,” Walker said. “We didn’t come out with that same energy, we didn’t come out with that fire that we should have, and that was a result of the game. We lost. So we’ve got to be a lot better in a lot of areas.”
Nebraska shot 28.6% from the field as Verge scored 17 of the team’s first 29 before taking a seat for god with just under six minutes to play.
Johns tied his career high with 20 points in 21 minutes while Williams led the Wolverines with career-high 22 points in 21 minutes off the bench. Dickinson finished with 15 points on 7-of-14 shooting. Michigan’s Caleb Houstan got the better of the match-up between 5-star freshmen that numerous NBA Scouts traveled to Lincoln to see as he finished with 16 points and shot 4-of-7 from deep while Nebraska’s McGowens failed to reach double digits for the second straight game with eight points on 2-of-9 shooting.
Freshman forward Wilhelm Breidenbach, who Hoiberg said “fought his ass off,” left with a leg injury during the second half and Hoiberg said they’ll get a scan to determine the extend of the injury on Wednesday.
The road doesn’t get any easier for the Huskers as Nebraska heads down to Atlanta to face No. 18 Auburn in the Holiday Hoopsgiving event.
“No one’s going to give us a game in this league and we’ve got to find some point to turn it on,” Walker said. “So this next game will be very critical for us just to get our feel back. We haven’t really shot it well, so we just need to do everything we can to get back to being a Nebraska team, and I felt like this game we weren’t a Nebraska team at all.”
Saturday’s game will tip off early with a 10:30 a.m. CT start.
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.