The Nebraska men’s basketball team held one final public dress rehearsal with the Husker Hoops Preview, a practice and scrimmage open to the fans at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Thursday night.
“It’s a good start,” Coach Tim Miles said. “Some of the guys got a chance to get under the lights and feel what it’s like being in Pinnacle Bank Arena with the scoreboard up there and the whole deal going. So it’s a nice rehearsal.”
The Huskers practiced for an hour-and-a-half capped by a team 3-point shootout. Then they split into teams and scrimmaged for 20 minutes on the Pinnacle Bank Arena floor. The Huskers worked in some position-specific shooting work, a handful of transition drills, four-on-four shell drill and some five-on-five action before closing out the night with the live scrimmage that saw the White team beat the Red 38-36.
“I thought practice was pretty good,” Miles said. “It wasn’t the all-star game, so I appreciate that. Some guys take it more seriously than others but that’s just part of the deal.”
Eight players took part in the 3-point shootout with the top two shooters advancing to the final round. Junior forward Jack McVeigh and freshman walk-on guard Justin Costello were the high scorers with 19 and 18, respectively, narrowly edging out freshman guard Thomas Allen (17) and junior guard James Palmer Jr. and freshman guard Thorir Thorbjarnarson (16 apiece).
In the championship round, Costello, the sharp-shooter out of Elkhorn South, matched his first-round score with 18, but McVeigh improved his with 20 makes to take the crown.
Miles split the team up into two squads for the scrimmage (although a couple switched sides as the game went on).
The original Red roster included Duby Okeke, Glynn Watson Jr., McVeigh, Isaiah Roby, Palmer, Nana Akenten, Costello and Thorbjarnarson.
The White squad included Malcolm Laws, Johnny Trueblood, Evan Taylor, Allen, Anton Gill, Isaac Copeland, Tanner Borchardt and Jordy Tshimanga.
Okeke, the grad transfer big man from Winthrop, made a good first impression with three early dunks and a blocked shot that ended up in the second row of the fans behind the basket. It was the first time the 6-foot-8, 247-pound center got to play in front of the Husker faithful.
“When we started practicing here last week, I was in awe,” Okeke said. “That was my first time actually being in PBA. When I was getting recruited here, my visit, it was monster truck weekend … Being here, it’s amazing. Compared to Winthrop — Winthrop, I love it, it was the best experience; but here it’s another level. It’s the Big Ten; it’s crazy. I’m used to being on the other side and like you’re going to the big schools, you’re going to the big arenas, you’re going to big crowds, but now you’re part of that.”
The teams battled to a 16-all draw at one point, but a 3-pointer by Allen and a tip-slam by Copeland put the White up five before the Red team responded to tie it again. White took its biggest lead at 31-24 on a three-point play by Taylor, but Palmer started to heat up for the Red and dragged his team back into the game.
Allen hit a tough runner to put the White team up 36-32 with 1:10 to play, but Palmer responded with back-to-back layups to knot the game at 36-all with just under 24 seconds to play, capping a big individual scoring run by the transfer wing from Miami.
However, Taylor, the senior guard in his second year with the Huskers, got the last laugh, converting a tough layup with 4.7 seconds to play to put the White squad up 38-36. The Red’s pass ahead was deflected out of bounds with 2.8 seconds, and after a timeout to draw something up the team got the ball to its veteran point guard and Watson’s 3-point attempt rimmed out at the buzzer.
Palmer missed three of his first four shots but finished strong to lead all scorers with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting to go with five rebounds, two assists and two steals. Taylor led the White team with 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting with four assists while Allen added eight points on 3-of-4 shooting including 2-of-2 from downtown.
The Huskers now have a charity exhibition at Mississippi State, a closed scrimmage against Iowa State and this 20-minute scrimmage in front of the fans under their belts.
“There’s no question those opportunities, even to see the athleticism of two Power Five schools like Iowa State and Mississippi State and get a different adjustment, and then of course the game against Mississippi State was great because we were on the road, we weren’t the fan favorites and so it was excellent to go through,” Miles said.
“And then second of all, of course, tonight where you’re at home, and that’s a different set of nerves for some of these guys. So for them to go through, and the guys coming off surgery or medical things like Jordy, like Isaac Copeland, like Anton Gill and then the freshmen like Thor and Nana and Thomas to be out there the first time is all really important for those guys. Duby Okeke, the Winthrop gym is a smaller facility, so for him to adjust to playing in a larger arena like this, he’s probably only does that three or four times in how many years? So it’s good for all those guys to go through.”
The next chance for fans to see the Huskers will be Tuesday when Nebraska hosts Northwood for an exhibition game starting at 7 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.