Nebraska flunked its first road test of the season as the Huskers were baffled by Georgia Tech’s shifting zone defenses all night in a 73-56 loss at McCamish Pavillion on Wednesday night.
Nebraska (4-4) turned the ball over a season-high 18 times and had its second-worst shooting performance of the season to drop its game in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
The Huskers shot 32.3% from the field, 23.1% from 3 and a season-low 44.4% from the free-throw line. Georgia Tech (4-2) didn’t have a great shooting night either at 21.7% (5-of-23) from 3 and 50% (4-of-8) from the foul line, but the Yellow Jackets shot 27-of-50 (54%) inside the arc compared to 15-of-39 (38.5%) for the Huskers. Nebraska was only outscored 7-5 in second chance points as the offensive rebound totals were even at 12 apiece, but Georgia Tech outscored Nebraska 18-10 in points off turnovers.
The ACC’s leading scorer, sophomore guard Michael Devoe, put up 26 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for Georgia Tech while shooting 10-of-16 overall including 4-of-8 from 3.
Senior guard Haanif Cheatham carried over his strong play from the Cayman Islands Classic to Atlanta, leading the Huskers with 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting and a career-high 11 rebounds. Junior guard Thorir Thorbjarnarson added 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting and seven rebounds off the bench.
Cam Mack and Jervay Green each scored 11 points, but they shot a combined 8-of-24 from the field with three turnovers apiece while Dachon Burke Jr. hit his first shot and missed the rest of them, finishing with four points on 1-of-8 from the field. Freshman big men Yvan Ouedraogo and Kevin Cross Jr. combined for five points on 2-of-11 shooting.
Burke hit a 3-pointer on Nebraska’s first possession, but the Georgia Tech zone defenses (the Yellow Jackets switched between a 1-3-1 and a mach-up zone) caused problems from there as Nebraska made just two of its next 10 shots. After giving up eight quick points in the paint, however, the Nebraska defense stiffened up.
Cheatham sparked a 6-0 run to give the Huskers a 13-9 lead, finding Mack in transition for a layup then scoring at the rim twice himself. Devoe snapped a streak of eight straight Georgia Tech misses with a 3 from the corner, sparking an 8-0 run for the Yellow Jackets fueled by Nebraska turnovers and missed 3s.
Mack found Thorbjarnarson for a bucket to snap a four-minute, 16-second scoring drought and that sparked a 9-2 run for the Huskers that included a bunny inside by Ouedraogo, a 3 by Green and a layup high off the glass by Mack.
The Huskers lost Devoe again for a 3 from the opposite corner as Georgia Tech tied the game up at 22-22. Thorbjarnarson made his presence felt, drawing two offensive fouls and converting two layups to give the Huskers a 26-22 lead. Cheatham followed Thorbjarnarson’s lead and took a charge himself, giving Devoe his second foul. Josh Pastner left Devoe out there, however, and Georgia Tech ripped off a 10-0 run as the 1-3-1 continued to baffle Nebraska.
Cheatham finally got the Huskers back on the board with a tough reverse layup after attacking along the baseline but Georgia Tech took a 32-28 lead into halftime.
The Huskers shot 39.4% including 2-13 from 3 and did not attempt a free throw in the first half. They turned the ball over 11 times leading to 12 points on the other end for the Yellow Jackets. Nebraska forced eight Georgia Tech turnovers but only managed to score once on those extra possessions.
Nebraska limited Georgia Tech to six offensive rebounds and one second-chance point. The Yellow Jackets only shot 38.9% from the field including 2-of-10 from 3 but they converted one more field goal than Nebraska and shot 2-of-5 from the foul line.
The teams traded 3-pointers to open the second half with Green hitting Nebraska’s, but Georgia Tech got two buckets inside to stretch the lead to eight at 39-31. Burke split a pair of free throws before Georgia Tech got two more easy buckets to push it to 11 at 43-32.
Nebraska’s drought from the field continued but the Huskers started getting to the free-throw line, though they only shot 3-of-8 to cut the deficit to eight. Green snapped a streak of 10 straight missed shots with a spinning layup, but Georgia Tech answered with a 3 and a put-back from Devoe to extend it back to 11. Cheatham put together a personal 5-2 run, but Devoe converted a three-point play then found Moses Wright inside for a bucket to make the deficit 13.
Nebraska cut it to nine twice and had a chance to draw even closer both times after getting stops, but the Huskers couldn’t take advantage. After Mack hit a 3-pointer to make it 60-51 Georgia Tech with 5:26 to play, the Huskers went scoreless for over three minutes as Georgia Tech put the game to bed with a 7-0 run. The lead swelled all the way to 20 in the final minute before Thorbjarnarson closed out the scoring with a corner 3.
Nebraska shot 25% from the field in the second half. Georgia Tech continued its struggles from deep but shot 48.6% overall.
The Huskers will look to right the ship on Saturday with a much shorter road trip as Nebraska will take on Creighton at CHI Health Center Omaha. Tipoff is set for 1:30 p.m. on FS1.
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.