KANSAS CITY, Missouri — In the words of its veteran big man playing in his home town for the first time, Nebraska got punked on Saturday night.
Kansas State out-hustled and out-shot Nebraska in the first half to build a double-digit lead and the Huskers’ second-half rally came up short in a 71-56 Wildcat win at the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City.
“We came out flat,” Kansas City native Derrick Waker said. “They wanted it more than us, they rebounded harder than us, they played harder than us, as especially throughout the first half. We got punked. We got punked. I don’t know what else to say about it. We just got flat-out punked in the first half.
“We pride ourselves on being the hardest working team and not allowing teams to outwork us. They definitely outworked us tonight.”
Nebraska’s top six scorers on the season shot a combined 10-of-43 from the field as the Huskers made one shot outside the paint in the first 31 minutes of game time. Nebraska (6-6) outscored Kansas State (10-1) in the paint and from the free-throw line, but the Wildcats built an 18-point advantage from the 3-point line as the Huskers went 4-for-21 from deep.
Nebraska turned the ball over 18 times, leading to 19 Kansas State points on the other end.
“We talked about the importance of taking care of the basketball tonight being the single most important part of this game to be able to stick in it and that gets them out in transition,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We just turned it over time and time again and got sloppy. We talked about offensive rebounds; I thought they really exposed us there. In the first half, 50-50 balls, they got every one of them. That’s unlike us. We’ve struggled to score the ball this year, but we’ve played hard and that’s kept us in games.”
With Nebraska’s usual sources of offense struggling, sophomore Wilhelm Breidenbach and freshman Jamarcus Lawrence stopped up, both posting new career highs. Breidenbach led Nebraska with 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting and five rebounds while Lawrence chipped in nine points on 3-of-4 from the field (2-of-3 from deep) and five boards.
“It was good to see Wilhelm get it going a little bit; proud of him for continuing to fight,” Hoiberg said. “Jamarques has been practicing really well; it was good to see him make a couple of shots. We needed our bench.”
Juwan Gary led the starters with eight points, 11 rebounds and four steals but he shot just 3-of-9 from the field. Walker added seven points, six rebounds, three assists and two blocks but he missed a lot of the shots he’s been making all season and went 1-for-5 from the field with five turnovers.
Kansas State senior Keyontae Johnson went off for 23 points, 11 rebounds and four steals as the Huskers had no answer for him.
“The kid is a hell of a talent,” Hoiberg said. “His length, his ability to shoot — he’s shoot almost 60% overall, 50 from the 3 and over 80 from the free throw line. He’s a pro, and I’m happy for the guy. As a guy that’s got a history of heart disease it’s great to see him out there doing what he loves to do and seeing him with the passion that he plays with.”
Nae’Qwan Tomlin addd 15 points on 6-for-10 shooting, but the Huskers held the rest of the Wildcats to 9-for-33 from the field.
“Give them credit,” Hoiberg said. “Jerome [Tang] had a great game plan. They came out and exposed us with their length and it can’t happen. We’re not talented enough, we’re not good enough to get outworked and, for those first 20 minutes, they were definitely the aggressors.”
Nebraska got off to a good start, forcing a shot clock violation on the opening possession then scoring first on a put-back slam by Gary, but the momentum was short-lived.
Nebraska went eight possessions without scoring as he Wildcats scored eight straight points. Gary ended the drought with another put-back. The Wildcats scored the next four to stretch the lead to 12-4 before a 7-0 run including a put-back and a transition wing 3 from Breidenbach made it a one-point game.
The deficit bounced between one and six until Kansas State took control with a 7-0 run including two buckets by Johnson and Markquis Nowell’s third triple of the half, building up a 32-21 advantage.
Nebraska added five more points via the charity stripe, but the Huskers went nearly six minutes without a bucket to end the half and David N’Guessan threw down an alley-oop from Nowell just before time expired to give the Wildcats their largest lead yet at 39-26.
Paint points were even at 16 apiece, but Kansas State outscored Nebraska by 15 from the 3-point line, shooting 6-of-15 to Nebraska’s 1-for-8. Kansas State turned nine Nebraska turnovers into 12 points, while the Huskers only scored eight on 10 Wildcat turnovers.
Breidenbach led Nebraska with nine points. Walker only played 11 minutes after picking up two early fouls, and he combined with Sam Griesel to shoot 2-for-7 with four giveaways.
“Wilhelm was big-time,” Walker said. “He played super hard. That’s the Wilhelm I know. That Wilhelm right there is a guy that’s going to cause some trouble for some folks later on in the season. If Wil can stay consistent with this play like that, he will be really, really good for us just because I feel like Wil was free tonight and I feel like he was getting back to himself a little bit. So I’m extremely happy for Wil and the way he played tonight.”
Nebraska traded buckets early in the second half, but the jump shot drought continued while the Wildcats continued to let it fly, extending their lead to 16 with a 3 from Johnson early in the half at 52-36.
The Huskers held Kansas State scoreless for nearly five minutes, but only managed to shave three points off the deficit as their offense dried up as well, and Tomlin ended the cold spell with a 3 from the corner, sparking a 7-1 run to give the Wildcats their largest lead of the day at 59-40.
C.J. Wilcher knocked down a 3-pointer at the 8:09 mark — ending a jump shot drought of 24-and-a-half minutes — and Nebraska gradually chipped away at the lead from there. Kansas State went five-and-a-half minutes without scoring, and Nebraska used a 10-0 run including another 3, this one by Lawrence, to pull within nine with just under four to play.
Hoiberg sent Lawrence in with 9:48 to play and let him finish the game. He was the only Husker with a positive plus/minus as Nebraska outscored Kansas State by two in his career-high 18 minutes.
“I’ve talked a lot about Jamarques and I think he’s got a very bright future ahead of him,” Hoiberg said. “To get out there, he can really shoot the ball. Yet was good to see him hunt a couple of those and knock down a couple of big 3s to get us back in the game. It’s huge confidence builder when you’re a young player you’re a freshman and you come into an environment like this and you hit a couple big shots in a run and the best basketball that we played. That does wonders for your confidence. So this is something Jamarques can build on and he’s going to play for us because he defends and he’s a guy that can put the ball in basket.”
Tomlin ended the Kansas State cold spell again with a contested 3 from the corner deep in the shot clock. Walker hit a pair of free throws, then the Huskers got three straight stops, but they couldn’t capitalize with a missed layup from Bandoumel and two missed 3s from Tominaga, the second of which got blocked.
Lawrence finally got a 3 to go down after the third stop, making it a seven-point game with 1:19 to play, but Kansas State went 9-for-10 from the foul line down the stretch to seal the victory.
Nebraska will look to get back on track Tuesday against Queens University as part of the Battle in the Vault triple-header event. Tickets are not part of season packages for Nebraska fans.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.