Nebraska was true to form right to the very end Saturday night in its return to the hardwood after nearly a month away from it.
You wouldn’t normally look at a missed shot with 37 seconds left in a 10-point loss as representative of the larger whole, but it was. Dalano Banton went up in traffic down low, got his rebound after his shot rimmed out, then put up a second chance that just rolled around the hoop and slowly fell off the back of the iron.
Real close, with an opportunity at hand, but an inability to finish against the Michigan State Spartans. That was the game. Nebraska lost 66-56 to drop to 4-9 on the season and 0-6 in Big Ten play.
For sure, Nebraska’s 28-day layoff—brought about by COVID cases within the program—put its own mark on Saturday’s affair. The Huskers shot 36% from the floor and made one basket over a near-10-minute stretch to close out the first half.
“I thought we got a little tired early, and I expected that,” coach Fred Hoiberg said after the game. “That’s gonna happen with what we just went through.
“We haven’t shot the ball well in practice at all. Part of that is we need to get our team back in shape, and trying to get their timing right, you have to go hard, and that’s going to take their legs away.”
But Nebraska certainly didn’t make things easier on itself.
Teddy Allen, the team’s leading scorer, was just 1-for-10 from the field (0-for-2 from 3) and provided as many points (three) as turnovers. He forced some looks, missed some open teammates, and gambled on some opportunities (at both ends) that exposed the Huskers.
Nebraska got 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting from Trey McGowens, but his other four starting teammates shot a combined 8-for-29. Shamiel Stevenson was productive off the bench (eight points), but Nebraska’s overall offense went through some pretty low valleys throughout the game.
“We had some decent (shots) but I didn’t think our flow was great, to be honest with you,” Hoiberg said, particularly in reference to the first half. “We’ve just got to find a way to clean some things up to eliminate the stretches, the droughts, that are hurting our team.”
The close to the first half featured misses on 11 of 12 shots at one point. Hoiberg thought his group was fortunate to be within 12 at the break.
Perhaps most problematic, though, was NU’s shooting at the charity stripe. In a game that Nebraska found itself within 7 points of taking at one point midway through the second half, Nebraska missed 13 of its 24 free throw attempts.
“If we make half of those free throws, we’re right there and the outcome could have been different,” Hoiberg said.
The offense never inspired much confidence that Nebraska could go take the game away from Michigan State, but the defense never let the Spartans feel like they were in the clear.
The home team took 10 free throws in the last minute of Saturday’s game—as the clock wound down, NU fouled to try and extend things—but for the first 39 minutes, NU played with remarkable defensive intensity, denying without fouling. The Spartans took six free throws total before the game’s final 60 seconds.
NU did well to rotate and snuff out open shooters. It either ran MSU off the line or forced contested 3s—the Spartans were 6-for-23 beyond the arc (26%).
Forward Derrick Walker, making his second straight start, was strong defending inside. Nebraska made MSU, which shot just 39% itself, work for almost everything. Most notably, Joey Hauser, the team’s second-leading scorer, was held scoreless.
Michigan State turned it over 22 times (off which NU scored 17 points) and only had 16 points in the paint.
When it created separation was when it was able to run off bad shots and Nebraska turnovers in the first half, but the halfcourt provided nothing easy.
Hoiberg said, not knowing what to expect after the lengthy pause, that’s what he wanted to see.
“I thought we really competed,” Hoiberg said. “I thought we really defended well. We had great activity, we really worked on our ball pressure the last couple days that we’ve had of practice, and I thought that carried over tonight.”
For all the problems Nebraska went through offensively, the head coach was proud of the effort.
“I told them at halftime we came back from a larger deficit in our home building two games ago—which was about three years ago it seems like,” Hoiberg said. “We found a way to come out in the second half, muster up energy and climb right back into the game. That’s what it’s all about.”
But, because of that energy, Nebraska’s short turnaround presents a headache for the coaching and training staff.
“I am concerned about Monday because we played hard tonight,” Hoiberg said.
Nebraska plays Minnesota on Monday in Minneapolis. The goal for Sunday will be to work on stuff without having the team on its feet too much. Luckily, Hoiberg didn’t feel like the extended minutes were really there for anyone against the Spartans (McGowens was the only Husker to play more than 25 minutes), but the Gophers’ style of play poses a problem for a team still trying to work itself back into game shape.
“From a defensive standpoint, they’re really gonna get out and pressure, and they do a great job. That’s a concern,” Hoiberg said. “We’re gonna be tired tomorrow, so we’ve got to be careful. The important thing is making sure we have legs, but we still gotta clean things up.”
Tip-off Monday is set for 7 p.m. CT on BTN.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.