Nebraska has won more games at home this season (11) than total games in any of Fred Hoiberg’s first three seasons in Lincoln (seven, seven and 10). Nebraska has one more opportunity to add to that total this season as Michigan State visits Pinnacle Bank Arena on Tuesday.
Nebraska will also honor its four seniors — super-seniors Derrick Walker, Sam Griesel and Emmanuel Bandoumel plus academic senior Keisei Tominaga — prior to the game. Unlike the first three, Tominaga still has another season of eligibility available, but Hoiberg said he has not yet made any decisions about his future.
“It’s an exciting night for all of our seniors tomorrow,” Hoiberg said. “This is Derrick’s third senior night and Sam’s second that they’ll be involved with and Emmanuel, we’re going to honor him with everything that he helped provide for our program. For Keisei, obviously Keisei is a senior and the biggest reason for him to walk is for his family and his parents who are in town. As all players will have after the season, there are going to be decisions, and Keisei obviously has an extra year. We talked about the different options that he will have after the season is over, but there’s been no decision made on what exactly is going to happen with Keisei’s future.”
Tominaga will have opportunities to play professionally back at home in Japan and potentially elsewhere after the season, and as an international student visa stipulations prevent traditional NIL opportunities. Tominaga will hav to weigh current money-making opportunities against what another year in Lincoln could mean for him from a developmental standpoint and for his future, and Hoiberg said he’ll walk through all of that with Tominaga and his family after the season.
“I’ve had guys that have been one-and-dones and I’ve been the first guy to say ’It’s time to go, you need to move on, strike while the iron is hot,’ and it’s been beneficial for guys like that,” Hoiberg said. “There are other guys that I’ve talked to about maybe coming back and and putting themselves in a better position. Sometimes they listen, sometimes they don’t, but you just try to do everything you can to help them make the best decision possible for their future.”
Hoiberg points to Walker and Griesel as examples of what taking advantage of that extra season can do for a player.
Nebraska opts for a pre-game ceremony on senior night as opposed to a post-game one, and Hoiberg said emotions will be running high leading up to tipoff.
“It’s going to be emotional, and as I talked to the team about, let it be emotional, it should be, and you should enjoy the moment,” Hoiberg said. “But once we get past that time on the court with your family, now we’ve got to flip back, ‘OK, now we’ve got a game to play.’ And once that ball goes in the air, you’ve got to put the emotions behind you and go out and execute because this is a team that I know is going to come in hungry after what happened in their last one, and they’re going to be flying around.”
In their last game, the Spartans led at Iowa by 13 points with 91 seconds remaining and by 10 with 40 seconds to go only to lose in overtime as the Hawkeyes hit five 3s in the last 40 seconds to tie it up then held Michigan State to five points in overtime to pull out a 112-106 win. Michigan State shot nearly 60% from the field including a blistering 73.3% (11-for-15) from 3 and 86.1% (31-for-36) from the free-throw line and still lost as the Hawkeyes broke out of their recent shooting slump to knock down 17 3-pointers.
The loss dropped the Spartans to 17-11 overall including 9-8 in Big Ten play, 1.5 games ahead of Nebraska in the conference standings.
The Spartans ran away from Nebraska in East Lansing for a 74-56 win on Jan. 3 behind 21 points from Tyson Walker and a 2-for-16 3-point effort from Nebraska.
“Obviously they’re very complete,” Hoiberg said. “They’ve got great guard play. [Joey] Hauser has been around a long time, his ability to knock down shots. [Malik] Hall, fully healthy, back in … That performance, besides the last minute, at Iowa was incredibly impressive, what they did. They go in there, they have a 13-point lead late in the game, and that’s hard to do against Iowa on the road. Besides the last minute, I thought they played a really, really good basketball game. So we’ve got to be on point and again, the physicality you have to play with against them.”
Walker is leading the Spartans (ranked 29th overall on KenPom — 33rd on defense and 52nd on offense) at 14.6 points per game while shooting 42.4% from 3. Hauser is second in scoring at 13.9 points per game and first in rebounding (7.0), 3-point percentage (43.9%) and 3-pointers made (2.1 per game). Junior point guard A.J. Hoggard is one of the league leaders in assists at 5.8 per game to go with his 12.3 scoring average. As a team. Michigan State is shooting 38.5% from 3 (14th in the country) and holding opponents to 30.4% (22nd).
Nebraska gave up 18 second-chance points on 14 offensive rebounds in the first meeting, and Hoiberg called physicality on the glass and transition defense in addition to managing the emotions early keys for the game.
“If we have any type of letdown to open up the game, they’re going to jump on us, so we have to match that early,” Hoiberg said. “All the little things you have to do against Michigan State and a Tom Izzo team, you’ve got to get back in transition, you’ve got to rebound, you have to play physically, or else as we saw in East Lansing, it could get out of hand in a hurry.”
Tominaga saw his streak of 20-point games snapped against Minnesota on Saturday, but he still got to double figures with 11 points on 50% shooting and the Huskers pulled out the victory. As Tominaga continues to draw significant attention, the other Huskers need to take advantage.
“They’re just really staying attached to him right now,” Hoiberg said. “That should, if teams do that, open up things for for other guys, especially if you ball screen and they’re attached to him, you should be able to take advantage of numbers somewhere on the floor. But they’ve got great defenders, they’re as good as anybody taking away certain things out of your offense.
“Keisei, the way he was guarded in the last one, they didn’t leave him much. He still found a way to get into double figures even though he had some issues with his legs in that game, but just again, our guys need to do a good job, we need to hunt him in transition — and our guys have done a solid job with that lately — and just keep screening and keep trying to get him loose, which you saw him in the second half against Minnesota, he finally got loose to hit a 3 and continues to do a great job cutting to the basket.”
The senior night ceremony is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. CT at Pinnacle Bank Arena with tipoff to follow at 8 p.m. Big Ten Network will televise the game with Kevin Kugler and Shon Morris on the call.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.