For the second time in four games this season, it took an extra five minutes to determine a result, but this time it went Nebraska’s way as the Huskers beat Southern 93-86 in overtime on Friday night.
The Huskers (2-2) fixed one of the team’s early-season problems (3-point shooting) but its struggles in other areas (defensive rebounding and free-throw shooting in particular) prevented them from running away with the game despite shooting 12-of-21 (57.1%) from 3.
The Huskers shot 57.4% from the field but only 51.4% (19-of-37) from the free-throw line. Southern out-rebounded the Huskers 54-28 including 25-4 on the offensive end and the Jaguars outscored Nebraska 16-3 in second-chance points.
“I thought they were more physical than us, especially in the first half,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “They were getting all the loose balls. We track the 50-50 balls and they were the first to the floor on a lot of those. You have to go out there and establish that early. That just breeds confidence. I think we got up by 11 … but they got right back into it and a lot of it had to do with loose balls and rebounds.
“Twenty-five [offensive rebounds] is obviously way too many. You are not going to win many games when that happens. You have to find a way to do it with five. We talked about it from the first day we met, that rebounding was going to be an issue for our group, but we have to find a way to compete better than we did tonight on the glass.”
Southern only shot 41% from the field, including 31% from deep, but it got 31 points on 11-20 shooting (6-of-11 from 3) from senior guard Micah Bradford. Bradford has totaled 28 points and shot 3-of-13 from 3 in Southern’s first four games.
Junior guard Jervay Green had a breakout performance for Nebraska, leading the Huskers with 22 points on 7-of-12 from the field, 4-of-6 from 3 and 4-of-7 from the foul line. He chipped in six assists, four rebounds and two steals in 36 minutes.
“Jervay is a guy that can play all day,” Hoiberg said. “I wasn’t like that. Jervay is a guy that can just go out there and compete at a high level. Whether he’s making shots or not, he’s always going to impact the game because of his defensive pressure and his defensive intensity.”
Sophomore point guard Cam Mack had 16 points and eight assists. Freshman big man Yvan Ouedraogo recorded his first double-digit scoring game with 11 points on 3-of-4 from the field and 5-of-7 from the line and added four boards and a block to his stat line.
Senior Matej Kavas led a strong second unit for the Huskers with 10 points on 3-of-6 from deep, surpassing 1,000 career points in he process. Nebraska got 30 points off its bench including seven from junior Thorir Thorbjarnarson who hit a pair of 3s and was a game-high plus-18.
“I give our bench a ton of credit for coming out, when they got the momentum, our bench was what I thought came in and turned it around,” Hoiberg said. “Samari [Curtis], Thor, Matej, Kevin [Cross Jr.], I thought those guys did a great job of giving the momentum back to us … I thought Thor was as good as any player on the floor tonight for us and did a great job of just going out there and doing a lot of little things — getting deflections, defending, being in the right position, rebounding.”
After two putrid shooting games to open the season, the Huskers showed some signs of improvement against South Dakota State, particularly in the first half, and built on that against Southern.
“A big part of it is we’ve been shooting a ton — not that we didn’t before — but we’ve been spending the first hour of our practice shooting and competitive shooting drills,” Hoiberg said. “I guess we’ll have to do some competitive free-throw drills now. The competitiveness I think helps; there are consequences for the team that loses. But when Matej goes out there and hits three of them — I think he was 3-of-4 in the first half — and Thor goes in there and knows down a couple, Jervay hit two right off the back. It’s contagious, whether you’re shooting 3s or free throws, I honestly feel that it’s contagious. If you knock down the first couple, you have a tendency of shooting a pretty good percentage over the course of the game.”
After making just three 3-pointers in Nebraska’s first three games (on 16 attempts), Green hit two triples in the first two minutes. However, that was the only source of early offense as Nebraska missed its first four shots at the rim and its first two free throws.
Junior guard Dachon Burke Jr. came alive with a layup and then a corner 3 to give Nebraska an 11-10 lead and then Green dumped the ball off to Ouedraogo for a bunny. After a Southern bucket, Nebraska ripped off a 7-0 run featuring layups by Mack and Haanif Cheatham and a 3 by freshman Samari Curtis.
Southern answered with five straight including its first 3-pointer before Kavas answered for Nebraska with a 3 of his own. Southern scored on a put-back but Nebraska used a 10-1 run including two more 3-pointers by Kavas to build the lead up to 13 at 33-20. The Slovenian sharpshooter from Seattle University had gone 0-for-6 in his previous two games.
“Coaches and teammates always tell me to just keep shooting,” Kavas said. “I don’t worry about the past. I just keep shooting and look to the future.”
Southern quickly eliminated the deficit, however, taking advantage of five missed free throws, two missed shots at the rim and a turnover by Nebraska to take a 38-35 lead. The Jaguars shot 3-of-3 from the field and 5-of-5 from the line during the 13-0 run.
Curtis finally ended Nebraska’s drought with a pair of free throws, then Mack blew by his defender for a layup to put the Huskers back in front with less than 30 seconds to play in the half. Nebraska had three fouls to give and used all three of them before Southern traveled and gave the ball back with 3.0 on the clock. The Huskers got the ball in to Mack and he pushed it up the sideline, drawing a foul near halfcourt with 1.4 to play. Mack split the free throws to give the Huskers a 40-38 lead at the break.
Nebraska shot better from 3 (7-of-12) than it did from 2 (6-of-15) and the free-throw line (7-of-15). The seven triples, three of which came from Kavas who led the Huskers with nine points at the half, tied Nebraska’s season-high for a game set last Friday against South Dakota State.
The Jaguars hit all eight of their free throws in the first half and rebounded 13 of their 25 misses, though the Huskers limited them to six second chance points. They shot 34.2% from the field including 4-of-15 from 3, though they hit their last three attempts of the half.
Mack got the second half started with a layup, but Southern hit its first seven field goals of the half to build its lead up to 56-48. Green grabbed a long offensive board and took it in for a three-point play, but Southern answered with another 3.
Then Thorbjarnarson came alive, knocking down back-to-back 3-pointers from the right wing — both assisted by Green — which sandwiched a free throw by Kavas on a technical foul. Southern hit a tough runner off the glass but Cross answered with a bucket of his own to cut it back to one.
The Huskers held Southern scoreless for more than four minutes but only managed to pull ahead 62-61 thanks to more missed free throws. The two sides traded buckets over the next few possessions before Nebraska took a 70-65 lead with a 6-0 run.
The Jaguars answered right back with a 7-0 spurt consisting of two put-backs and another 3 by Bradford. Mack went 2-for-2 at the line to tie it up. Nebraska gave up an uncontested layup on the other end, but Mack went right back to the cup and this time converted a three-point play to take a 75-74 lead, then Green got a steal and score to put Nebraska up three.
After trading buckets, Southern scored on a put-back. Three empty possessions followed and chewed up the clock before the Jaguars scored on a simple pick-and-roll with 33.9 to play. Green drew a foul at the rim with 15.9 on the clock and split the free throws to tie it up.
The Huskers forced a missed floater and than a missed 3 to send the game to overtime.
Ouedraogo set the tone for the extra period, calling his own number and taking it to the rim for a bucket on the opening possession. Southern answered with a quick 2 but the Huskers blew the game wide open with a 10-0 run and cruised to the finish from there.
Ouedraogo and Green accounted for all but one of Nebraska’s overtime points with six apiece. Ouedraogo threw down a dunk, hit a pair of free throws, blocked a shot and grabbed a rebound while playing the full five minutes.
“I was on the bench almost all of the second half, so I was on the bench, and I was like ‘If I’m going on the court, I’m going crazy,’” Ouedraogo said. “It was just like that.”
However, Mack delivered the highlight of the overtime period.
“I was like wow,” Green said about his reaction to Mack dropping his defender. “It feel great. As soon as I released it I said that’s a bucket. I made it and the rest is history.”
The Huskers have a quick turnaround as they’re getting on a plane on Saturday morning to fly down to George Town, Grand Cayman. Nebraska will play three games in three days as part of he Cayman Islands Classic starting with Washington State on Monday at 6:30 p.m.
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.