Sam Griesel went off in the second half in his official Nebraska debut while Keisei Tominaga provided a big spark off the bench as Nebraska opened the 2022-23 season with a 79-66 win against Maine on Monday.
The Black Bears gave the Huskers a scare in the second half, but Nebraska pulled away to open the season with a win at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“We played a very good opponent today” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “… So for us to face this type of adversity in game one, continue to battle, continue to play, continue to execute when times were tough out there and then finally started getting stops to open the lead back up a bit, proud of the guys for doing that.”
Griesel led all scorers with 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting, nine rebounds and three assists. Tominaga scored 19 points in 20 minutes, shooting 7-of-12 from the field (3-of-7 from 3) and 2-of-2 from the foul line.
Nebraska outscored Maine 42 to 16 in the paint and 16 to five in second chance points as the Huskers grabbed 16 offensive rebounds, topping their season-high of 14 from last season. Juwan Gary was a big part of that as eight of his 11 rebounds came on the offensive end, and he chipped in 14 points for the double-double (though he shot just 5-of-15 from the field and 3-of-6 from the foul line).
“Eight offensive rebounds is pretty ridiculous, but he’s just such a big energy guy for us,” Griesel said. “The team can rally around his play. He makes so many hustle plays like we talked about and effort plays. And offensive rebounds, I think I’ve talked about it before, but they’re so demoralizing for opponents when you guard someone for 25, 26 seconds, and then maybe they get a long rebound or Juwan is just out there out-hustling people and we get a second possession, it’s so demoralizing to them. He’s just relentless on the glass and we’re glad that he’s on our side.”
Nebraska shot 46.2% from the field including 31.8% from 3. The Black Bears shot 41.4% from deep with 12 makes but missed eight of their 10 free throws. Gedi Juozapaitis and Kristians Feierbergs combined for 16 points on 13-of-19 shooting 9-of-13 from 3), but the Huskers held the rest of the Black Bears to 36.1% shooting.
“We knew coming in that they had guys who could really heat up and get it going, Gedi especially,” Hoiberg said. “He played in the same league as Coach [Adam] Howard and also my son last year. We knew coming in that he was a guy that could really heat up from the outside, and that’s exactly what happened. [Feierbergs] was a guy that got going as well. We made an adjustment, had more of a square coverage into a switch. I thought our guys executed that well and shut it down a little bit.”
Derrick Walker remains day-to-day and did not suit up for the game, nor did true freshman Ramel Lloyd Jr., who Hoiberg said is likely heading for a redshirt year.
Blaise Keita started at the five in place of Walker like he did in the Colorado exhibition, but Hoiberg shook things up at the four by starting Gary and bringing Wilhelm Breidenbach off the bench as the primary back-up five, and the change serve both players well as Breidenbach chipped in nine points on 4-of-6 shooting (1-of-1 from 3), seven rebounds and three assists in 17 minutes.
Gary made the most of his start, scoring six points, corralling three offensive rebounds and recording one steal as the Huskers raced out to a 9-0 lead. Breidenbach checked in off the bench as the back-up five and added a dunk and a driving layup to give Nebraska a 13-2 lead six-and-a-half minutes in.
“I loved our start,” Hoiberg said. “I thought we really came out of the gate with great energy. Juwan got us off to a great start with an offensive rebound and a great hustle play. He hit a 3 early, and that’s the kind of start we need.”
The Huskers hit a cold patch while Juozapaitis caught fire as the Black Bears pulled within seven midway through the half. Griesel halted Maine’s run with an acrobatic layup, then Tominaga took over, scoring 10 straight Nebraska points in the span of two minutes (two 3s, two driving layups) to put Nebraska ahead 40-25.
“That’s Keisei to a tee,” Griesel said. “When I first got here, he wasn’t here. He was still playing with with Japan. His first few weeks, he just lit it up, and I was like, ‘Who is this?’ Obviously, I knew who he was, but I was very shocked. But especially when he comes off the bench, that’s what he can bring for us and he’s a big spark-plug and he can just take the lid off the basket for us. Obviously he did that tonight, but we’re going to continue to rely on him to stretch the floor.”
LeChaun DuHart answered Tominaga’s second three with one of his own then both teams went scoreless for the final two minutes as Nebraska took a 40-28 lead into halftime.
Tominaga led everyone with 13 points in the fist half, firing up 10 shots in eight minutes and hitting half of them. Nebraska shot 43.2% from the field including 5-of-15 from 3. Maine shot 52.4% including 5-of-12 from deep but turned the ball over 11 times and gave up eight second-chance points to the Huskers.
The Black Bears came out of the locker room firing in the second half while anyone not named Griesel struggled to get shots to fall for the Huskers. Maine hit 10 its first 13 shots including five 3s to pull within one at 54-53.
The Black Bears looked poised to take the lead after a turnover triggered a breakaway for Ja’shonte Wright-McLeish, but Emmanuel Bandoumel chased him down and glassed the layup from behind. The Huskers got the ball back to Bandoumel and he went hard to the basket for a bucket, triggering a 14-1 run to put the Huskers back up by 14.
“Effort plays can really change the outlook of halves and games completely, obviously that being blocks, dunks, whatever to get the crowd into it,” Griesel said. “So that was big time. Obviously that was that was a big change in the momentum for us and we got some shots to fall and got some shots that we wanted to get.”
After the hot start to the half, Maine missed nine of its next 10 shots.
The Huskers cooled off after that, going nearly four minutes without scoring, but they only gave up two buckets during that stretch and the lead bounced between 14 and nine the rest of the way as Maine threw in some zone defense to disrupt Nebraska offensively. Maine only hit two 3s in the last 13 minutes.
Griesel scored 18 of Nebraska’s 39 points in the second half as Nebraska shot 50% from the field.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say that I came in out of halftime and I was like, ‘I need to do this, I need to do that,’” Griesel said. “My whole career I always try to let the game come to me, and I felt that my role is to do whatever I can to help this team win. Tonight, that was it was score and facilitate, obviously. I wasn’t particularly pleased with my defensive play, so I’m going to need to focus on that. But I just want to do whatever I can to help this team come out on top.”
Nebraska will return to the Vault on Thursday to host Omaha. The Mavericks fell to reigning national champion Kansas 89-64 at Allen Fieldhouse on Monday.