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Huskers to Host a ‘Charged-Up’ Mavericks Team in Game Two

November 10, 2022

Nebraska passed its first test on Monday, pulling away from Maine for a 79-66 victory, but opening week of the college basketball season continues on Thursday for Nebraska with another buy game, this time against a team from just up the road.

The Omaha Mavericks will make the drive down I-80 to Pinnacle Bank Arena to face the Huskers for the first time since the 2014-15 season. Shavon Shields led the Huskers to a 80-67 victory with a career-high 35 points in that game.

Both teams have new coaches this time around as Omaha moved on from long-time head coach Derrin Hansen and hired an alumnus in Chris Crutchfield off of Dana Altman’s staff at Oregon.

Crutchfield brought in eight new players (four JUCO transfers, four freshmen) to play around Frankie Fidler, the Bellevue West product who had a terrific freshman season as a go-to scorer for the Mavericks.

Omaha opened its season at Allen Fieldhouse against reigning champion Kansas, and the Mavs gave the Jayhawks a real challenge into the second half before Kansas pulled away for a 89-64 win.

“You look at what Omaha was able to do with a bunch of new faces, I thought Chris did a phenomenal job, and their staff, of really putting together a very competitive roster,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “To go into Allen Fieldhouse … especially on opening night after winning a national championship last year, I was really impressed with how they competed. That was a seven-point game with 15 minutes to go and they had a breakaway, which they fumbled out of bounds, which would have cut it to five. And then Kansas did what they do at home, they went on one of their monumental runs and it’s tough to slow them down when that happens. 

“I was really impressed with the poise that that team played with. I really like a lot of the players that they have on their roster with their skill sets, their quickness, their athleticism. So that’s going to be a tough one.”

JUCO transfer Jaeden Marshall, a big-bodied 6-foot-4 guard, led the Mavericks with 13 points on 4-of-9 shooting (2-of-5 3-point shooting) and 3-of-3 free-throw line. Freshman Luke Jungers, Omaha Creighton Prep graduate, provided 12 points and a team-high six rebounds while shooting 2-of-5 from 3 in 27 minutes off the bench. Fidler and JUCO transfer Marquel Sutton, a bouncy 6-foot-7 forward, chipped in seven points apiece. Point guard JJ White, another JUCO transfer, contributed six points and six assists.

Hoiberg is familiar with Crutchfield from their shared time in the Big 12 and is expecting a stiff test from what appears to be a much-improved Mavericks team. 

“I know they’re going to play with great energy,” Hoiberg said. “I played against Crutchfield when he was at Oklahoma working under Lon [Kruger]. I got to know him a little bit when I was coaching at Iowa State. He’s had some unbelievable head coaches that he’s worked for with Lon Kruger, with Dana Altman. Coming back home now where he played, I know that group’s going to be charged up. We have to match that, we have to go out there and be a harder-playing, more physical team. That’s the bottom line, and that’s what you have to do every time, especially when you step on your home floor. 

“It’s not just this game, it’s every time we step on the floor. It’s a talented, competitive, athletic group. We have to be ready to play from the jump because I know they’re going to come in here and play extremely hard.”

The Mavericks are dealing with a number of injuries as JUCO transfer Kennedy Brown, a 6-foot-9 forward, missed the Kansas game after playing in their exhibition game. Freshman big man Jamal Ambrose, former Husker Akol Arop and walk-on turned rotation sharpshooter Kyle Luedtke have all been on the shelf.

Nebraska is having to deal with its own absence as Derrick Walker remains day-to-day, according to Hoiberg. He played in the team’s first exhibition against Chadron State but did not suit up against Colorado and Maine.

Blaise Keita started in Walker’s place in both of those games but played a combined 22 minutes and scored four points. Oleg Kojenets, Wilhelm Breidenbach and even the 6-foot-6 Juwan Gary all played minutes at the five as Hoiberg looked for lineups that would click without Walker.

“[Walker] just brings so much to our team,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a great pressure release because he can flash and make a play, one of the best passing bigs in our league. When you need a bucket, he’s obviously got great efficiency around the rim. You’re not going to make up everything with Derrick with one guy; it has to be a collective group effort, which I thought we did that with some different guys that stepped up. Not only Blaise, but Oleg got some minutes in that first game. Wilhelm played a lot at that position and then with Juwan when we played small. 

“That was the one thing — I’ve talked about that with this team — is you have the flexibility to play different lineups and you have the flexibility to play small and you have lineups where you can go big. I think we showed that in our last game, that we played lot of different combinations. We found the right one and that’s what opened that lead up back at the end of the game.”

Keita struggled to defend Maine’s five-out offense and its perimeter-oriented five man, but Hoiberg thought he saw some first-game jitters from the JUCO transfer and expects him to learn from the experience and get better. Hoiberg said they’ll need the 6-foot-11, 241-pound Keith’s size and physicality down the road and anticipates his playing time will increase moving forward. 

One player who won’t be seeing his playing time increase after the exhibition games is freshman guard Ramel Lloyd Jr., who did not suit up for the season-opener. Hoiberg announced after the game that the 6-foot-6 Lloyd will likely redshirt this season and provided more background on that decision on Wednesday.

“He’d had multiple conversations with his family on the subject, and it’s just what is most comfortable at this time,” Hoiberg said. “Obviously things can change; this isn’t something that has to be a season-long decision. If something changes with any type of circumstance where we would need Ramel, I talked to him about that.”

Tipoff at Pinnacle Bank Arena is set for 7:01 p.m. CT. The game will be available via stream on Big Ten Plus with Jessica Coody and former Husker Erick Strickland on the call.

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