LINCOLN, Neb. — The 3-point line giveth, and the 3-point line taketh away.
Michael Jacobson drilled a 3-pointer with 0.3 left in regulation to send the game into overtime, but a 3-pointer by Nigel Hayes with 19 seconds left gave Wisconsin a 70-69 lead and the Badgers (21-3, 10-1) got a stop on the other end to survive Nebraska’s upset bid at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Nebraska (10-14, 4-8) actually shot a higher percentage from the arc (42.9 percent to 36.4 percent) for the first time since the Huskers’ double-overtime win against Iowa. Nebraska was last in the Big Ten in opponent’s 3-point percentage at 45.5 percent heading into the game, and the perimeter defense reared its ugly head in the biggest moment of the game.
However, Nebraska could have prevented the game from getting to that point several other ways. The Huskers struggled to finish around the basket as they actually shot a lower percentage (40 percent) inside the arc than outside of it. The Huskers shot just 10-of-19 on layups alone.
The Huskers also shot just 15-of-24 (62.5 percent) from the free-throw line. Ed Morrow Jr., who played in the game after sitting out the last seven with a foot injury, missed two shots in overtime that could have double Nebraska’s lead just before Hayes’ 3-pointer.
Nebraska finished with a season-high 22 turnovers, including two key ones in the final few minutes of regulation. Wisconsin scored 15 points off those turnovers.
“I thought it was a gritty effort by our team,” Coach Tim Miles said. “I never questioned their result and their heart. It seems like we just do enough to lose. There are a lot of different factors that go into that tonight. Not just a play here or a play there, but it’s a big picture thing we can improve on. Wisconsin is an excellent team. They’re very strong inside. They make it very hard to score at the rim. I think you saw that tonight. Even though we were in there they still did a good job against us. We have to credit them.
“That’s why we see the veteran guys that went through battles that didn’t get rattled. They hit a pick and pop with Nigel, I don’t know when the last time he made one was. I mean he’s got the guts to take that shot, Michael’s got the guts to take a big shot and we were just a play short.”
The first half proved to be a struggle for both teams offensively. Wisconsin got off to a quick start, knocking down its first two 3-pointers and working its way out to a 14-6 lead by the first media timeout.
Nebraska scored the next five points, to pull within one possession for the first of what proved to be many times in the game, but Wisconsin answered with a 7-0 run to pull ahead 21-11 with 7:34 to play.
Nebraska’s defense took over the rest of the way, holding Wisconsin to just four points over the last seven-and-a-half minutes, The Huskers held the Badgers scoreless over the final 3:49 and a drive and dish from sophomore forward Jack McVeigh for a layup pulled the Huskers within one at 25-24 at halftime.
The teams combined to shoot 19-of-58 from the field and 5-of-18 from deep in the first half.
Wisconsin continued to lead for most of the second half, but Nebraska pulled within three or less six different times before finally getting over the hump and taking their first lead on a steal and breakaway layup by freshman forward Isaiah Roby.
Roby fouled out shortly after, but finished with four points, eight rebounds, three blocks and two steals in 15 minutes. His first basket came on a high-flying alley-oop earlier in the half that got the fans on their feet, and Roby made a big difference on defense when he stepped on the floor. Roby was part of a bench unit that outscored Wisconsin’s 17-8.
“Roby was terrific,” Miles said. “I thought he showed that promise that we saw in his recruiting. He played so hard and really made a difference in the game. We needed everybody, and those bench guys did a great job.”
The lead changed hands two more times before senior forward Nigel Hayes got a friendly bounce on a tough shot inside to put the Badgers up three with 14 seconds left.
“Patience on offense, we knew weren’t just going to bring it back,” Webster said about Nebraska’s second-half effort. “We just have to grind it out and focus on getting those stops. Wisconsin brings a different style that we don’t really see much of. They’re in the position they are for a reason. They play well, make big plays and they know how to win down the stretch. We showed a lot of grit, especially to the young guys.
The Huskers put the ball in sophomore guard Glynn Watson Jr.’s hands, and with the defense collapsing on him he kicked it to Jacobson for the game-tying 3-pointer — Jacobson’s first 3-pointer of 2017. He was 3-of-21 heading into the game.
“Specifically Watson, Webster, and McVeigh were the three guys we were really keyed in on … [Jacobson] got a little too much space,” Wisconsin Coach Greg Gard said. “We really don’t want anybody to get a 3 off, and I thought as we made the last switch we were back too far on Jacobson. We didn’t attack the ball back again once the switch took place. We had the ball covered, but when they flipped it back to him we were too much in the pocket.”
The overtime period included two ties and six lead changes. The Badgers did all their damage from the 3-point line (shooting 3-of-4) and the free-throw line (3-of-5). Webster broke a 67-all tie with a pair of free throws with 1:11 to play, but after a stop Morrow came up empty at the foul line, setting up Hayes’ game-winner.
The Huskers got one final shot after Hayes took the lead and put the ball in the hands of their senior leader, Webster. He had an opening and took it to the basket, but as he tried to get past his man he stumbled a bit, allowing center Ethan Happ and two other Badgers to go up and block Webster’s shot with less than four seconds to go.
“We just wanted to get a re-screen and get them back in another screen just to see where the defense was obviously,” Webster said. “I tripped so I didn’t do a good job of executing. I feel like I let us down with that, so I kind of forced the ball when I got it back it wasn’t a very good shot. It was a good opportunity to make a play, but I just got tripped over. I just made a mistake.”
The loss is the eighth in nine tries for the Huskers and the third by a single point.
“This will not sink us,” Miles said, and Webster shook his head in agreement..
Webster finished with 19 points and five assists, both team-highs, but he also shot 6-of-18 for the second straight game and committed four turnovers. Watson Jr. had 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting, playing 38 minutes one game after a groin injury limited him to 18 minutes off the bench at Iowa. Jacobson rounded out the Huskers in double figures with 10 points and five rebounds.
In his first game back, Morrow grabbed 13 rebounds but scored five points on 2-of-7 shooting and turned the ball over five times in 26 minutes.
“I felt like I could’ve been more productive,” Morrow said. “I was a little timid coming out in the game being that it was my first game coming back. I was just excited to be out there. There were some plays I made I wish I could take back, but at the end of the day you have to live through them and keep playing and other than that, I’m doing pretty fine.”
Freshman center Jordy Tshimanga grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds, but shot just 2-of-8 for six points and committed four turnovers.
The Huskers held senior point guard Bronson Koenig and Happ, Wisconsin’s top two scorers, to 20 points on 7-of-22 shooting, but Hayes played all of the second half and overtime to finish with a game-high 20 points on 6-of-9 shooting. He played just seven minutes and scored two points in the first half after picking up two early fouls. Senior guard Zak Showalter shot 4-of-6 from deep and added 15 points for the Badgers.
The Huskers will return to Pinnacle Bank Arena on Tuesday to host Penn State for an 8 p.m. tip-off.
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.