Nebraska held a lead for 37:39 of game time at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Saturday, but for the 15th time overall and 10th straight in Big Ten play, the Huskers found a way to lose.
Rutgers took its first lead of the game with 90 seconds remaining and held on for the 63-61 win. Nebraska didn’t make a shot and scored just three points at the free-throw line in the last 3:27 of the game.
After pulling ahead by three late, Rutgers gave Nebraska a gift with 0.9 on the clock, fouling Kobe Webster on an off-balance 3-pointer that didn’t have a chance of going in. The super senior made his first start of the season in place of Alonzo Verge Jr., who did not suit up.
Webster stepped up to the line and missed the first shot. He made the second then committed a lane violation on the third trying to intentionally miss and rebound it. Ball game.
After giving up 93 points in their first meeting with Rutgers, the Huskers held the Scarlet Knights (12-8, 6-4) to 34.4% from the field including 3-of-19 from deep in round two. Ron Harper Jr., who lit Nebraska up for 29 points in Piscataway, finished with seven points in 1-of-9 shooting. However, Nebraska’s free-throw shooting (21-of-29) wasn’t enough to overcome shooting 29.3% from the field and the Huskers failed to capitalize on what Fred Hoiberg called his team’s best defensive effort of the season.
Bryce McGowens tied his season-high with 29 points, shooting 6-of-17 from the field (3-of-7 from 3) and 14-of-18 from the foul line. Trey McGowens added 11 points and seven rebounds while Derrick Walker eclipsed his scoring total from the last two games combined with nine points. Webster finished with three points and shot 0-of-10 from the field.
“This is on everybody,” Hoiberg said. “This isn’t on Kobe. This is on me, it’s on every player that’s part of this program. Kobe did a lot of really good things out there for us, getting us into actions, getting us into sets in the start. Unfortunately it was just one of those nights, which all of us that have played this game have had.”
Verge was on the bench but did not suit up. Hoiberg said a “personal matter” was the reason he did not play.
“The decision, in talking to him, was made, and I’m just going to leave it at that,” Hoiberg said. “And we’ll see how it goes; we’ve got two days to see where things go, but it was a personal matter and it was a coach’s decision.”
Nebraska raced out to a 7-2 lead after getting stops on three of Rutgers’ first four possessions, then pushed the lead to nine at 15-6 following a three-point play from Walker. Prior to Walker’s bucket, he drew an offensive foul on Harper, his second in the first five minutes which sent him to the bench.
The Scarlet Knights whittled away at the the Nebraska lead, cutting it all the way down to one at 20-19, but the Huskers responded with a 11-1 run to take their largest lead yet. Seven of those points came at the free-throw line as the teams combined to go three-and-a-half minutes without a field goal.
Geo Baker ended Rutgers’ drought with a baseline jumper, but Nebraska’s scoring woes continued. The Scarlet Knights closed the half on an 8-0 run capped by a Caleb McConnell dunk on a back-cut that trimmed Nebraska’s lead to 31-28.
The Huskers missed their last nine shots and 14 of their last 16, going scoreless for the final 4:04 of the half. Bryce McGowens led all scorers with 13 points, shooting 3-of-5 from deep and 4-of-4 from the line. Walker added seven points on 3-of-4 shooting. The rest of the Huskers combined for 11 points on 3-of-20 shooting.
Nebraska shot 29% overall and scored just 10 points in the paint, but the Huskers hit four 3s and shot 9-of-11 at the foul line. Rutgers shot 42.9% from the field (1-of-7 from 3) and 3-of-4 from the line. Harper went scoreless and played 12 minutes with the foul trouble.
Lat Mayen finally ended Nebraska’s field goal drought with a corner 3 2:10 into the second half, the first points for either team. The Huskers pushed their lead back to nine at 41-32 with consecutive finishes through contact bay the McGowens brothers including a three-point play from Trey.
The Scarlet Knights kept pushing and eventually got the deficit down to three, but Bryce McGowens answered with a tough three-point play, then later added a pair of bonus free throws to extend the lead back to eight.
The Huskers had a couple of chances to extend the lead back to double figures but couldn’t take advantage as they fell into another field goal drought. Nebraska went nearly five minutes without a bucket, allowing Rutgers to pull within one as Harper hit a 3 for his first field goal of the game.
Trey McGowens ended the drought with a corner 3 off a great pass from Walker, but Rutgers answered 18 seconds later with a 3 from Mawot Mag. Bryce McGowens came up empty on a take to the basket but got the ball back with a steal and drew a foul, sinking two bonus free throws to put he Huskers up by three with 2:42 to play.
The Huskers didn’t score again until Webster’s free throw. Buckets from Baker and Paul Mulcahy gave the Scarlet Knights the lead and Harper’s free throws set up the final sequence.
“Obviously a very difficult stretch for us,” Hoiberg said. “They made some good plays on drives to the basket. We got the ball in the middle of the floor where we had some success with middle pick-and-roll. We found Derrick on one which got Trey the open 3 in the corner … Unfortunately, that was our last basket going down the stretch. We’ve just got to find a way to finish one of these games, get the confidence and know we can do it. We did a lot of good things out there to give ourselves a chance to win a game when we shot under 30%.”
Nebraska shot 29.6% from the field (8-of-27 including 2-of-9 from 3) and 12-of-18 at the foul line in the second half. The Huskers turned the ball over 10 times after halftime to just four giveaways for Rutgers, who shot 34.4%.
The Huskers will hit the road to begin the second half of league play. They’ll travel to Michigan for a Tuesday night rematch. The Wolverines handled Nebraska 102-67 back in December.
“In this business you’ve got to find a way to put the emotional ones behind you, whether it was a win or a loss,” Hoiberg said. “We’ve got another tight turnaround with two games in three days. We have an opportunity now going into Michigan. We’ve got to flush it down quickly. If we don’t and it hangs on it could get ugly on Tuesday. We’ve got to find a way to put it behind us, which I’m confident our guys will do.”
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.