A disastrous five minutes for the Huskers turned a narrow second-half lead into a double-digit deficit as Nebraska fell to Georgia Tech 75-64 at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Wednesday night.
The Huskers battled through an ugly first 33 minutes, trading punches despite struggling mightily on offense, but the Yellow Jackets eventually delivered a knockout blow and Nebraska had no answer as the game slipped away.
“For about 33 minute, we were solid on both ends of the floor,” senior Kobe Webster said. “We were talking, energy was up. I think after that media timeout at the eight-minute mark in the second half, we gave up two offensive rebounds and two back-to-back 3s. That was kind of when we separated a little bit. We tried to get it back, but by the time it got to 11 or 12 points it was a little late to try to rally back.”
The Huskers (3-2) dropped their second straight ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup with the Yellow Jackets (2-2) and are now 5-5 in the 10 years they’ve participated in the conference crossover event.
“When they got the momentum, I just saw us splinter a little bit,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “The biggest part of this game is battling through adversity. This group has been good at that so far this season, but for the first time I didn’t see that same togetherness. Even the Nevada game when we weren’t hitting shots, everybody stayed together and stayed with it. Tonight I just saw us separate a little bit. We’ve got to find a way to do it; I don’t care what level you’re playing at — elementary school, high school, college, pro — the number one thing you have to do is fight through adversity and battle through the runs.
“They did a much better job of that than we did tonight and that’s why they won the game.”
Foul trouble limited Georgia Tech senior point guard Jose Alvarado to 12 minutes and five points in the first half, and then he picked up his fourth foul less then to minutes into the second half. Coach Josh Pastner went back to Alvarado with 13:51 to go and he played the rest of the game as Pastner didn’t make another substitution. Alvardo scored 19 points and dished out two assists in the second half to finish with a game-high 24 points.
Senior Kobe Webster led the Huskers with a season-high 20 points, but leading scorer Teddy Allen managed just 10 points on 4-of-16 shooting. Dalano Banton finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and six assists, but he also had a season-high five turnovers and a few of his buckets came late in garbage time. Trey McGowens fouled out with six points on 2-of-9 from the field and 2-of-6 from the foul line.
After the game, Allen and McGowens made their way back out to the Pinnacle Bank Arena court to get some extra shots up.
“I thought we had some really good looks, and then I did think we forced a couple of them,” Hoiberg said. “I thought we had some where we were all by ourselves wide open we just didn’t convert them … We got to step up when we are open and knock those down. Teddy had a very uncharacteristic night going 4-for-16, but he is going to knock down shots. That’s just who he is, that’s just what he’s done over the course of his career. Just continue to look for the good ones and keep our movement. That was a thing offensively that we didn’t do a good enough job when they went man. I thought our zone attack was good. We just have to do better against the man and a lot of that is our movement.”
Nebraska shot 37.7% from the field including 34.8% from deep, but six of their eight makes from 3-point range came from one player as the rest of the team struggled mightily while Georgia Tech shifted between zone and man. The Huskers had a season-high 16 turnovers, besting their 15 turnovers from their previous game.
“It started the first half with the 11 turnovers had a couple charges had a couple very careless passes,” Hoiberg said. “We talked about them converging on the ball. They have great hands. Alvarado, that’s what he does. He gets into your body and has great hands to force some of those turnovers. You can live with the five in the second half but we have a goal of keeping it 10 or under. This is two games in a row now. I think 15 in the last one and 16 tonight. We have to take care of the ball better.”
Nebraska got off to a good start, pulling ahead 10-6 and then 15-10, but each time Georgia Tech answered to tie it up. Then the Yellow Jackets took their first lead with a 6-0 run, pulling ahead 21-18.
After going back and forth for a few minutes, Georgia Tech used a 7-0 run to take its largest lead of the half at 32-24. Nebraska answered with back-to-back corner 3s, one from Webster and one from Lat Mayen, to cut the deficit to two.
Both sides went scoreless over the final two minutes and Georgia Tech took a 32-20 lead into halftime.
Nebraska limited the ACC’s leading scorer Moses Wright to two points on 1-of-3 shooting, but Michael Devoe and reserve wing Khalid Moore combined for 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting.
Nebraska turned the ball over 12 times and shot 5-of-14 from deep against Georgia Tech’s zone. Webster led the Huskers with nine points off the bench on 3-of-4 from deep.
After Allen missed all six of his shots in the first half, the Huskers went to him early and often to open the second half and he powered the Huskers to a 10-2 start, scoring eight of the points himself.
Nebraska next three buckets all came from Webster on three triples, giving him six for the game on seven attempts. He had made five 3s total on 19 attempts through his first four games at Nebraska.
However, the Huskers’ defense started to slip after a great start to the half and Georgia Tech tied the game up at 49-all with just over nine minutes to play. After an exchange of buckets and a free throw by McGowens, the game turned in Georgia Tech’s favor and the Huskers couldn’t find a way to recapture momentum.
Back-to-back 3s by Alvarado, the first after an offensive rebound and the second after a Nebraska turnover, gave the Yellow Jackets the lead for good. The Huskers cut the deficit to three a couple of times before Georgia Tech hit them with a 10-1 run to all but seal it with two minutes to play.
“We messed up a couple coverages … and then the two offensive rebounds in that stretch, after having a lead at the seven-minute media timeout, I thought were the keys to the game, which they converted into six points,” Hoiberg said. “In a tight game like that, a one-possession game at that time, you can’t allow that to happen. You can’t give them momentum and the confidence to finish us off. We missed some timely free throws in that stretch as well and they got that lead up.”
After McGowens’ free-throw gave the Huskers their final lead, Nebraska shot 2-of-5 (0-of-2 from 3) and 1-of-3 from the free-throw line over the next five minutes. Meanwhile, the Yellow Jackets shot 5-of-9 (4-of-7 from 3) and 4-of-5 from the line with three offensive rebounds on the other end. All of that added up to an 18-5 run.
Wright came alive with 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting and six boards including three on the offensive end.
Nebraska will need to move on quickly as the Huskers get one day off before making the short trip up I-80 to Omaha for a meeting with Creighton. Tipoff on Friday is set for 6 p.m. CT on Big Ten Network.
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.