Nebraska’s run for a Cayman Islands Classic championship came to an end on Tuesday evening as George Mason outplayed Nebraska in every phase of the game en route to an 85-66 win in the semifinals.
The Huskers (3-3) led for a total of 65 seconds, all in the first 10 minutes of the game, as the Patriots (7-1) took control early and never let up.
George Mason shot 49.2% from the field including 44% (11-of-25) from deep led by Jamal Hartwell II with 23 points and five 3-pointers. Jordan Miller added another 20 on 7-of-11 from the field and 4-of-4 from the line. The Huskers forced 19 Patriot turnovers but only converted them into 15 points the other way.
For the third time this season, Nebraska shot under 40% from the field at 39.3% including 33.3% (10-of-30) from 3. The Huskers shot 8-of-13 (61.5%) from the foul line. Nebraska turned it over 15 times and surrendered 15 offensive rebounds as the Patriots outscored Nebraska 17-9 in second-chance points.
Junior guard Dachon Burke Jr. led the Huskers with 14 points on 5-of-12 from the field, 2-of-5 from 3 and 2-of-4 from the line with five steals and four turnovers. Senior Haanif Cheatham added 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting (2-of-4 from 3).
Freshman forward Kevin Cross had 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting (3-of-5 from 3) and five rebounds in just under 20 minutes off the bench. Senior forward Matej Kavas chipped in 10 points and two assists, shooting 5-of-6 from the line but only 2-of-7 from the field.
Nebraska looked out of sorts from the start against George Mason’s three-court-court press and halfcourt switching defense. The Patriots jumped out to a 12-5 start that included a put-back and seven points off four turnovers.
Burke got the Huskers going, starting a personal 7-2 run with a step-back jumper from the elbow. He added a layup and a deep 3 to get the Huskers within a bucket. Then Burke forced a turnover and Kavas got a run-out layup to tie it. Burke stole a pass and threw it ahead to Green to give the Huskers their first lead since 3-2 at 16-14.
Burke cooled off after that, however, and no one else picked up the slack as George Mason hit the Huskers with a 10-0 run. Freshman forward Yvan Ouedraogo grabbed Nebraska’s first offensive rebound and kicked it out to Kavas who got fouled on a 3. He hit all three free-throws, but another offensive rebound led to a 3 by George Mason.
Kavas drew another foul on a 3, hitting two of the three freebies, then Mack found Ouedraogo for a layup to pull the Huskers within four at 27-23. The teams traded 3-pointers from there with freshman Samari Curtis hitting Nebraska’s at the 5:27 mark.
Nebraska hit an offensive rut once again, scoring just two points the rest of the half. George Mason pulled ahead 37-26 with a 7-0 run before Cheatham took it the length of the floor for a layup with just under a minute to play.
The Patriots took that 37-28 lead into halftime. Nebraska shot 9-of-28 from the field (32.1%) including 3-of-11 from 3 (27.3%) in the first half. George Mason grabbed 10 offensive boards and converted them into 11 second-chance points.
Burke led the Huskers with 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting (2-of-3 from 3) and four steals but he also had three turnovers. Kavas had seven points and nobody else had more than Curtis’ 3.
George Mason scored eight of the first 10 points of the second half to push its lead to 15 but the Huskers answered with an 11-2 run featuring five points by Cross and a pair of 3s by Cheatham.
The six-point deficit was as close as Nebraska would get the rest of the way, however, as the Patriots had an answer every time Nebraska made a run. George Mason scored five straight including a 3 late in the shot clock to push the lead back to 11. Nebraska got a 3 from Cross but gave one up on the other end on the next possession.
The Huskers put together a 7-2 run with buckets by three different Huskers to cut it back to six, but the defense slipped again and gave up back-to-back 3-pointers as George Mason took a 63-51 lead.
The Huskers cut it down to seven three different times, but George Mason answered each time. After the third push, the Huskers ran out of gas as George Mason closed the game on an 18-6 run. The final two points came on a dunk by Burke with less than 30 seconds to play — his first points since scoring Nebraska’s first 12.
The loss sends Nebraska to the third-place game on Wednesday at 4 p.m. CT. The Huskers will face South Florida, who lost to New Mexico State earlier in the day 65-45. LaQuincy Rideau was the only Bull in double figures with 11 points.
The Aggies will face George Mason for the championship at 6:30 p.m.
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.