After scoring 47 points in its season opener, Nebraska surpassed that total in less than 17 minutes against South Dakota State on Friday en route to the first win of the Fred Hoiberg era.
After losing their first two games — the second in overtime — the Huskers bounced back to take down the Jackrabbits 90-73 in front of a packed house at Pinnacle Bank Arena; official attendance was 15,946. Nebraska scored 50 points in the paint and 20 in transition while converting 13 South Dakota State turnovers into 16 points the other way.
“It sure beats what happened in the other two,” Hoiberg said. “It’s great to get that first one. I’m happy for our guys, I’m proud of our guys for the way they came in and approached this week and we are going to need another good week heading into this next game Friday and then we play a lot of games in a short amount of time. Hopefully, guys get their rest tomorrow and back to work on Sunday.”
Overall, Nebraska shot 49.3% from the field, 26.9% from 3 and 56.5% from the free-throw line.
Sophomore point guard Cam Mack equaled his scoring output from the first two games combined with 24 points on 8-of-14 shooting (3-of-6 from 3) and 5-of-7 from the foul line with four assists and three steals. Senior guard Haanif Cheatham and junior guard Dachon Burke Jr. scored 17 points apiece and combined for 13 rebounds. The Huskers won the rebounding battle for the first time this season, 45-44.
“In practice, we’ve been emphasizing it a lot — boxing out, everybody going to the glass,” Burke said. “We play small ball, but it doesn’t mean anything. I feel like with this team, we have enough talent to out-rebound any team.”
Freshman forward Kevin Cross Jr. added 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting and two blocks off the bench. Freshman center Yvan Ouedraogo led the Huskers with 12 rebounds and chipped in six points in 20 minutes.
“It’s great to see Yvan with the 12 rebounds, six on the offensive end … He’s getting us extra possessions now and getting his hands on balls,” Hoiberg said. “He’s getting more comfortable in the post; you can see it with some of his moves and finishing around the basket continues to improve. I think sometimes we all forget Yvan’s still 17 years old. The kid’s got a heck of a future in front of him. He’s a great worker, always wants to watch film, individually he’s in there as much as anybody. He battled tonight. We’re going to need him all throughout the season; there are some big bodies, obviously, in this league.”
After a sluggish start, Nebraska turned its defense into offense to rip off a 10-0 run for an early 12-2 lead as the Jackrabbits missed eight straight shots. Mack capped a 10-4 run with a steal and score that put the Huskers up 22-8 with nine of those points coming in the open floor.
The Huskers continued to roll, converting six straight shots (back-to-back 3s then four straight layups) to take a 40-14 lead. After a few empty possessions, Mack drilled his second 3 of the game and Ouedraogo converted a put-back to give Nebraska its largest lead at 45-17.
The highlight of the first half came near the two-minute mark as Cross took matters into his own hands, getting a stop then taking it all the way himself for a bucket on the other end.
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South Dakota State scored the last four points of the half to make it 51-27 Nebraska at the break. The Huskers shot 56.8% from the field with 26 points in the paint and 13 fast break points. Mack, Burke and Cheatham all reached double figures scoring in the first half.
“It helps when the ball’s going in the hoop,” Hoiberg said. “It’s funny in this game how confidence works. It’s the single most important thing. If you have it, you have a chance; if you don’t, you’re going to struggle out there.”
South Dakota State shot 27.3% from the field including 1-of-13 from 3 and turned the ball over nine times in the first half. Leading scorer Doug Wilson had nine points but it took him nine shots and a trip to the free-throw line to get there and he turned the ball over twice as well.
“The confidence I thought was built on the defensive end, and I thought it started with Haanif,” Hoiberg said. “He really battled Doug Wilson out there who is having a monster year so far. He’s giving up size; we ran a couple double-teams at him to create some deflections, but I thought Haanif did a really good job of staying in front of him, which is not easy to do. He’s a heck of a player. That’s what got some of those missed shots, and that’s what got us out on the break.”
Nebraska’s play slipped a bit on both ends to open the second half and South Dakota State cut the deficit to 21, but Mack injected some energy back into Nebraska’s lineup and the Huskers hit four straight shots capped by a Cross three-point play to push the lead back to 30 at 69-39.
The Huskers went ice cold form there as South Dakota State used a 7-0 run to cut it to 20, then pulled to within 17 on a 3-pointer by Winnebago product David Wingett and a dunk by Mike Dentlinger. Freshman Samari Curtis answered with a 3-pointer for his first career points to push it back to 20. South Dakota scored three straight at the free-throw line before a layup by Cheatham, a dunk by Ouedraogo and a free throw by Burke put the Huskers back up by 22.
“[The Jackrabbits made a run] and I let them play through it,” Hoiberg said. “I was contemplating multiple times to call a timeout. Samari hit a big 3 for us to stop the bleeding at one point. Just again, trying to get your guys to go out there and respond, and I thought our guys did that for the most part.”
The two sides traded scores until South Dakota State got a couple of buckets in the last 70 seconds to trim the final margin to 17. After showing improvement from the perimeter in the first half, Nebraska shot just 2-of-12 from 3 in the second.
“The second half was not very good for us,” Hoiberg said. “We allowed them to get into the paint too easily and didn’t do the same things that got us that lead. But I was really pleased with the first 20 minutes to get out to the lead, and that’s certainly something we can build on.”
Wingett had five points, four rebounds, an assist and a steal for the Jackrabbits while Aurora product Baylor Scheierman added six points, eight rebounds and two assists. Wilson finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds.
The Huskers will return to Pinnacle Bank Arena next Friday to close out their season-opening home stand against Southern. Tipoff for that game is scheduled for 7 p.m. on BTN+.
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.