Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Nebraska Beats Omaha Behind Big Night by C.J. Wilcher

November 10, 2022

Nebraska improved to 2-0 for the first time under Fred Hoiberg with a 75-61 home win against Omaha on Thursday.

The Cornhuskers never trailed as five players combined for all but one of the team’s 75 points.

“Really proud of the effort tonight,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I thought the guys, from start to finish, really played with great juice, great physicality. Give Omaha a lot of credit for coming in here and really pressuring us. That bothered us for a stretch … It was an important win, and guys stepped up.”

After a slow start to the season, C.J. Wilcher went off for a career-high 21 points, shooting 8-of-12 from the field including 4-of-7 from deep.

Sam Griesel and Emmanuel Bandoumel scored 18 points apiece and combined for 13 rebounds, six assists, three steals and just one turnover. Denim Dawson chipped in eight points, three rebounds, two assists and one steal after going scoreless in the opener.

Blaise Keita started at the five again with Derrick Walker sidelined and fell just short of a double-double, scoring nine points on 4-of-6 from the field and 1-of-2 from the line and grabbing 12 rebounds.

“He got us off to a good start, got an early basket,” Hoiberg said. “I thought he really rebounded and had really good pop out there. I’m happy for him. Blaise is a guy that’s put in a ton of work for us. He’s very selfless; he’s not a guy that’s down there hollering for the ball … He’s a screen setter, does a lot of dirty work, took a charge again tonight. He’s by far the leader for us in that category. He does a lot of little things for us, but I thought his physicality really set the tone for us tonight.”

Nebraska shot 50% from the field including 36.8% from 3 but struggled mightily at the free-throw line, hitting at a 58.1% clip (18-of-31). Nebraska held Omaha to 41.4% from the field including 5-of-17 from deep, and the Mavericks attempted just 10 free throws.

Keita got the scoring started with a strong move in the paint for a three-point play, sparking an 11-0 start for Nebraska as the Mavericks missed their first six shots and didn’t score until the 15:21 mark.

Griesel hit a pair of free throws three minutes into the game, giving him 1,000 for his career. He scored 976 of those points at North Dakota State. 

The hot start continued with back-to-back 3s from Wilcher and Dawson that made it 21-6 Huskers, then Dawson later pushed the lead to 17 with a baseline drive and dunk on a Maverick defender.

“I thought Blaise was terrific tonight after a tough opening game,” Hoiberg said. “He came out and really set the tone for us from a physicality standpoint, getting 12 rebounds, almost getting a double-double. Emmanuel hitting those first couple 3s for us early in the game, you know what he’s giving you on the other end all the time, but he gave us a great boost offensively and was in attack mode all night. And then C.J. just hit timely shot after timely shot for us.”

A put-back from Wilcher with just under eight minutes to play put the Huskers ahead 29-12, but the Huskers cooled off from there as Omaha used a 14-2 run to cut the deficit down to five. Nebraska went five straight possession without points — three misses around the rim and two straight turnovers — before a pair of Griesel free throws.

“I thought we did a lot of really good things to get that lead up to 17 in the first half and then I thought we got a little sped up,” Hoiberg said. “We attacked a couple times into a crowd when it wasn’t there. Once we started playing off of two feet and making simple plays we had very productive possessions. But that one stretch where we got a little sped up, we had a couple turnovers in that stretch as well. That’s what got Omaha out in transition for layups and also for 3s.”

“I thought we did a lot of really good things to get that lead up to 17 in the first half and then I thought we got a little sped up,” Hoiberg said. “We attacked a couple times into a crowd when it wasn’t there. Once we started playing off of two feet and making simple plays we had very productive possessions. But that one stretch where we got a little sped up, we had a couple turnovers in that stretch as well. That’s what got Omaha out in transition for layups and also for 3s.”

Nebraska locked back in defensively, holding the Mavericks scoreless for three minutes and stretching the lead back to 12 on a pull-up 3 from Wilcher before Marquel Sutton beat the buzzer with a put-back dunk for Omaha.

Nebraska took a 41-31 lead into halftime after shooting 50% from the field including 5-of-9 from 3. The Huskers took advantage of the bonus to shoot 16 free throws but only made 10 of them. Omaha shot 41.4% from the field with three triples and only attempted five free throws. 

Wilcher and Griesel were the only Huskers to score in the last nine minutes of the half, combining for Nebraska’s last 15 points. Griesel led all scorers with 11 points, shooting 7-of-9 from the foul line. Wilcher added 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting (2-of-3 from 3). 

The second half mirrored the first with a strong defensive start by the Huskers, holding Omaha to 1-of-8 from the field with four turnovers in the first six minutes as they extended the lead to 16 at 51-35. 

Omaha made a push midway through the half as Jaeden Marshall led an 11-2 run including a four-point play to cut the deficit to seven at 55-48, but Wilcher answered 15 seconds later with his fourth 3 of the game. Omaha pulled within nine shortly after, but Nebraska responded with a 14-4 run to seal the game.

“That’s a really good basketball team that’s well coached, so I’m proud of ur guys for going out there and I thought the physicality that our team played with was the thing I’m most happy with because you have to have that,” Hoiberg said. “You can’t back down when teams go on runs. We kept the physicality and we eventually took the lid off the basket.”

Juwan Gary suffered a shoulder injury six minutes into the half and didn’t return, though Hoiberg said he could have. He played 17 scoreless minutes after dropping a double-double in the opener. Dawson and Jamarques Lawrence, who made his debut after not playing in the opener, played a combined 23 minutes in the second half.

“Guys that didn’t play a lot last game really stepped up,” Hoiberg said. “I give Jamarques Lawrence a ton of credit for going out there. He didn’t take a shot but he had a huge impact on that win with his defensive intensity. Denim Dawson, once again, terrific. It was good to see him out there being aggressive on the offensive end.”

Redshirt freshman walk-ons Sam Hoiberg and Jeffrey Grace III made their Nebraska debuts in the final minute.

Nebraska shot 50% again in the second half but went just 2-of-10 from deep and 8-of-15 from the foul line despite hitting the bonus at the under-12 timeout.

Wilcher said he felt a little extra juice in the intra-state battle and was happy with the way the Huskers responded to Omaha’s fight.

“That definitely played a part in it,” Wilcher said. “We had a lot to prove and I know those guys came here feeling like they had a lot to prove. It was just two Nebraska teams going at it and competing at a high level. We went on our runs, they went on their runs. They were bumping us, we were bumping them. It was definitely felt.” 

Up next for Nebraska is a trip out east for its Gavitt Tipoff Games matchup against St. John’s.

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