LAWRENCE, Kan. — It takes a special type of team to go into Allen FIeldhouse and emerge with a win, and as Saturday’s game between Kansas and Nebraska proved, the Huskers are not one of those teams.
Kansas raced out to a big lead in the first half and cruised in the second for an 89-72 victory over Nebraska, dropping the Huskers to 5-5 on the season. Nebraska is 1-5 in its last six games, with all five losses coming to teams with realistic NCAA Tournament hopes.
Early on, it looked like the Huskers had come ready to play as they scored on five of their first seven points to take a 10-7 lead four minutes in. However, Kansas responded with an 11-1 run to take the lead and never gave it back.
“Coach [Bill] Self’s got a great team,” Nebraska Coach Tim Miles said. “It’s a fast team, a skilled team, a powerful team. They can get you a lot of ways. I was really proud of our guys. The second half I thought we showed some toughness, some resiliency to claw back in and make it at least uneasy for them. I thought we played our style and did the things we need to do to be a successful team in that second half.”
Nebraska won the second half 38-35, but that was about the only victory for the Huskers on Saturday.
Nebraska couldn’t slow down the high-powered Jayhawk attack as five players finished with eight or more points in the first half. Kansas continued to widen the gap throughout the half and it reached as much as 22 before a couple of buckets pulled Nebraska within 17. However, Devonte’ Graham hit a 3-pointer from NBA range just before the buzzer to give Kansas a 54-34 lead at halftime.
“There’s no doubt we didn’t take much away from them for a long time,” Miles said. “I thought the last 10 possessions with the exception of the last possession were pretty good for us until we gave up Devonte’ Graham’s 3-pointer right at the buzzer. That was a play that we’re supposed to smother and make him bounce it and we just gave him a little bit of space and he’ll make you pay. Their ability in transition to hurt you, and then they’ve got athleticism because they can spread you out. And then of course he’s got his patented high-low.”
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk had a big first half for the Jayhawks, scoring 13 points including two 3-pointers.
“I don’t know the kid’s name, but No. 10 was really I thought the a backbreaker in the first half,” Miles said about Mykhailiuk. “He just made very open look. I kept thinking that one’s not going in and it looked short and it just bottoms out in the back of the net. You have to commend them. He’s really I think kind of a guy that breaks your heart. You think you’ve got everybody else covered and then … that guy hurts you.”
Miles changed up his lineup to start the second half, sending out Evan Taylor, Anton Gill and Jordy Tshimanga in place of Glynn Watson Jr., Jack McVeigh and Michael Jacobson. McVeigh played just seven minutes in the first half and did not see the floor in the second.
Watson fouled out later on with five points, one assist and three turnovers. Jacobson shot 1-of-8 from the field in the game and also had three turnovers.
“We were going to play our toughest guys … That’s it,” Miles said. “We can play some odd lineups; I don’t care. But we just don’t have enough weaponry right now with our outside shooting … I just thought tonight the only way we’re going to even make this a ball game is just to make it a fist fight.”
The shift did not make much of a difference immediately as Kansas outscored Nebraska 6-2 to take its largest lead of the game at 60-36 less than two minutes in. Nebraska finally showed the toughness Miles wanted to see after that, reeling off a 12-3 run to pull within 15 points.
A few minutes late Nebraska cut it to 14 on a one-handed slam by Gill on a dump-off from senior Tai Webster in transition, but that was as close as the Huskers would get as Kansas freshman Josh Jackson scored the next two buckets and Kansas kept the Huskers at an arm’s length the rest of the way.
The Jayhawks shot nearly 65 percent from the field in the first half and was shooting better than 60 percent for much of the second half too before they cooled down a bit. Kansas shot 59.6 percent for the game. The Huskers shot 39.1 percent overall, and they shot around 36 percent in the paint as Kansas blocked 12 shots.
“We went in there all night,” Miles said. “I think they blocked 11 of them and we missed about 11 of them but at least we were at the rim and we were in the paint. We weren’t going to back down. I was proud of our guys for that.”
Tai Webster led all scorers with 22 points and dished out five assists, but it took him 20 shots to get there and he turned the ball over three times in 36 minutes as teams continue to key in on Nebraska’s senior guard and pack the paint against him.
“It was rough,” Webster said. “A tough environment to come into. The crowd’s nothing like we’ve seen before. They’re good at what they do. They pressure you full-court every time you take it out and they’re relentless. It’s tough.”
Ed Morrow Jr. added 16 points and seven rebounds, while Tshimanga set or tied career highs with 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocks.
Senior point guard Frank Mason III led the Jayhawks with 18 points and seven assists. Jackson added 17 points, six rebounds, two assists, two steals and five blocks. Mykhailiuk finished with 15 points, Graham added 14 and Landen Lucas chipped in 12 points and seven rebounds off the bench. Kansas outscored Nebraska 17-4 in transition.
The trip to Kansas wrapped up the high major portion of Nebraska’s non-conference schedule as the Huskers will return home to host Gardner-Webb and Southern before kicking off Big Ten play at Indiana on Dec. 28.
“We got a lot of experience out of these couple of tough games,” Webster said. “I think it’s a huge learning curve for the young guys especially because we’re a young team and we play a lot of young guys. I’m out there with four sophomores to start the game and they’re playing like they’re seniors I think; they’ve come a long way from this summer. I think it’s good for us that we had such a tough schedule and I think we’ll be looking good going into conference play.”
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.