Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Keon Edwards Next Man Up as Huskers Prepare for Idaho State

November 18, 2021

Nebraska has a lot of things to figure out after Tuesday’s loss to Creighton, and the Huskers will have to search for those answers without their leader in the lineup.

After practice on Thursday, Coach Fred Hoiberg provided an update on Trey McGowens, who broke his foot against the Bluejays on Tuesday.

“He feels good,” Hoiberg said. “He was there at practice today and is going to continue to lead on with his voice. We hope to get him back with a speedy recovery and a full recovery, but the surgery went well, was successful, and the timeframe will be six to eight weeks.”

McGowens’ absence leaves a void on the court, but Hoiberg is counting on the experienced guard to continue to be a presence on the sideline during practice and games while he recovers.

“He’s been as good as anybody on our roster with, number one, buying into a role and doing a great job of going out there and giving us leadership, and that won’t stop now that he won’t be on the floor,” Hoiberg said. “He’s going to continue to lead with his voice. He did it today and practice and will continue on in games. But it’s an important thing for Trey as a senior to continue on, stay engaged, which he 100% will. He was phenomenal today and this is less than 24 hours after surgery, and he’ll be out there cheering our guys on as much as anybody starting tomorrow night.”

C.J. Wilcher started in McGowens’ place in the second half and played a career-high 32 minutes, scoring a career-best 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting including 3-of-6 from deep. Kobe Webster also sparked the Huskers’ comeback attempt with 20 points off the bench in his first action of the season. However, with McGowens’ defensive prowess and versatility in mind, Hoiberg through out a wildcard during his press conference.

“The guy that I look at that’s going to have to go in there and make an impact for us that hasn’t played a lot of minutes so far is Keon [Edwards],” Hoiberg said. “He’s got great size and is a good rebounder, so he’s going to be asked to go in there and make a contribution. That’s what you want, you’ve seen Eduardo [Andre], he did it his first action, going in there and making a big impact after sitting the first game. And then it was Kobe in the last game, after being hurt the first one and not playing in the second, going out and giving us a huge lift in that game against Creighton and almost brought us back 

“It’s what you play the game for, for opportunities like this. For a guy like Keon, he’s going to have to come out and I make an impact is because of his physicality. We’re not going to get everything Trey gives us from one person, it’s going to have to be collective. But Keon will be a big part of that and he will most likely start tomorrow.”

Edwards is a 6-foot-7, 204-pound transfer from DePaul who has seen limited minutes this season, mostly at the four. He played six, two and five minutes, respectively, in Nebraska’s first three games and is still looking for his first bucket as a Husker.

“He’s got great size at the wing position and he’s got good length,” Hoiberg said. “He plays hard and, again, a guy that can, because of his size, defend against some of the better wings. We’re playing a good team tomorrow, a very good team. To go out there without having a big shot to this point, the opportunity is there for Keon to go out there and make a big impact and have a positive impact on our team.”

Defense seems to be the reason Hoiberg is giving Edwards the nod, but the Huskers aren’t going to ask him to do everything the 6-foot-4 McGowens did as an on-ball defender. His absence will make it even more important for everyone on the floor to be on the same page.

“It’s going to be a full team effort,” Hoiberg said. “We’re going to have to be in our gaps. We’re going to have to do a better job. Trey’s our best on-ball defender, he makes up for a lot of other things. When we get beat he’s always in the right spot. He’s got great hands and anticipation. Keon’s got some of that ability as well, but going out there and being a starter for the first time when you’re averaging about five or six minutes a game, it’s a completely different role. But he’s excited, he’s ready for it and we’ve got confidence in him.”

Offensively, McGowens only scored 19 points in Nebraska’s first two-and-a-half games, but he still played a key role as the lead ball-handler when Alonzo Verge. Jr. was on the bench. Webster isn’t likely to score 20 points or hit four 3-pointers every game, but McGowens’ absence should open the door for the super senior to regular playing time as the back-up point guard.

“First of all, I’m really happy for Kobe,” Webster said. “He stayed professional, he stayed positive, especially that game where he didn’t get an opportunity to get in there. He was a great voice on the sideline, especially for younger players. Then to go out there and impact a game of that caliber the way that he did, it tells you everything you need to know about Kobe. He’s going to have a great chance here moving forward and we’re confident in Kobe. He’s got some confidence right now from that game, to see that ball go through the hoop in his first action on the floor this year in real game. So, excited for Kobe and hopefully he can keep it going.”

Expect to see the ball in Bryce McGowens’ hands more moving forward as well. The week one Big Ten Freshman of the Week followed up back-to-back 25-plus-point games with just six on 3-of-10 shooting against Creighton on Tuesday. Hoiberg said Creighton’s defenders did a good job of being physical with him and cutting off his driving lanes.

“We’ve got to get the ball in his hands more in a playmaking role,” Hoiberg said. “That’s something that we’re going to make an effort of tomorrow to get him more opportunities as a playmaker. He needs more touches; he can’t go five or six possessions in a row where he doesn’t touch the ball. He’s too gifted and too talented for that to happen.”

Up next for the Huskers is a game against an Idaho State that is off to a 1-2 start despite returning most of its production from a year ago.

“They added a really high-level transfer and 99% of their scoring is back from last year and, again, they play really well together; you can see it on film. I’ve been really impressed with how these guys play and the pace that they play with and the physicality more than anything, and that’s always going to be a concern with our group is how we handle that. How do we handle that physical, especially frontline that they have? And then their guards will get in there and they’ve got good toughness there as well. They’ve got great strength all the way across. So it’s going to take a concerted effort to go out there and make first contact and create that rebound area.”

Hoiberg also wants to see improvement in transition from his team on both offense and defense. Hoiberg said the Bengals will run opportunistically, and coming off a game against Creighton where transition played a big part, Hoiberg is putting an emphasis on getting back on defense once again. He also wants to see his team make others pay more for crashing the offensive glass by pushing it up the floor after securing defensive rebounds.

Tipoff on Friday is set for 6 p.m. CT at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Jessica Coody and director of player development Buzzy Caruthers will call the game for Big Ten Network+.

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