For the first time since 2004, Nebraska is heading back down I-80 with a win in hand as the Cornhuskers knocked off No. 7 Creighton 63-53 at CHI Health Center Omaha on Sunday.
The Huskers (6-3) secured their first win against their in-state rival since 2018, and their first regular-season road win since 1995. The 2004 victory came in the NIT.
“When I committed here, this was the game that I wanted the most, obviously for a lot of reasons,” Lincoln native Sam Griesel said. “I was just talking to some of the staff members that have been here for a long time, 15, 20 years, and just thinking back to players that I idolized that wore this jersey that didn’t get this win and especially in this arena. Just walking around Lincoln, everyone’s just like, ‘Just beat Creighton, just beat Creighton.’ It’ll be nice to have a good response to that now.
“But this is hard to put into words. I get a little bit emotional thinking about it just because it means so much to me and so much to this group and this state. But this is a day that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
The Huskers bludgeoned Creighton (6-3) in the paint (46 to 16) and the Bluejays couldn’t make Nebraska pay for packing it in defensively as they hit just 10 of their 40 3-point attempts.
“This moment at this time of year, to be able to get a signature win like this is huge,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Defensively, we couldn’t have played much better. They missed some shots, there’s no doubt about that when when they look back on it, but we made a conscious effort to try and take away the pain. If they get lobs and they get 3s, you’ve got nothing. You have to take something away … Our guys just did a great job of flying around, and that’s what it’s all about. If you’re going to make a mistake, make it with effort, and I thought we did that.”
Derrick Walker set the tone early en route to a big day, finishing with a game-high 22 points on 11-of-16 shooting and eight rebounds. Sam Griesel had a big second half to put up 18 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and two steals in 39 minutes. Juwan Gary early notched his own double-double with 12 points on 5-for-5 shooting and nine rebounds.
Ryan Kalkbrenner and Baylor Scheierman each had double-doubles for Creighton, but TCU transfer Francisco Farabello led the Bluejays with 16 points on 5-for-9 from deep as the Huskers held Creighton’s dynamic starting five largely in check. The Jays shot 20.8% from the field, attempted just five free throws and turned the ball over 16 times.
“Let me just start with talking about how proud I am of this group for going out there and executing everything that we talked about the last 48 hours,” Hoiberg said. “It’s a very tough environment to play in and we knew that coming in. We talked about going out there and matching energy early and I thought we did that.”
Both teams looked to play through their big men early as the first five buckets of the game all came from centers (three finishes by Walker, two dunks by Kalkbrenner).
Nebraska jumped out to an 8-4 lead as the Bluejays’ shooting struggles from the Texas game (4-for-27 from deep) carried over to Sunday. They missed their first five triples before knocking down two of them to pull back in front 12-8.
Nebraska tied it up at 12-12 before another Creighton 3. The lead changed hands three times from there as both teams struggled to sustain any kind of offensive success for more than a couple possessions.
Creighton tied it up on a Farabello 3 with just over two minutes to play in the half, but didn’t score again. Gary powered through his man for a layup with just under 15 seconds to play to give the Huskers a 25-23 lead and Nebraska got a stop to close out the half.
The Huskers flew all over the court, effectively double-teaming the post and scrambling to close out to shooters on ball reversals. Creighton shot just 25.8% from the field including 5-of-17 from 3 and turned the ball over eight times.
Nebraska shot 2-for-7 from 3 but outscored Creighton 16 to four in the paint. Waker led everyone with 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting despite playing just 10 minutes after picking up two fouls, and all of his buckets came by going right at Kalkbrenner, the reigning Big East Defensive Player of the Year.
“You look at Derrick, what he does, I think I can jump higher than him right now,” Hoiberg said. “But when you get him the ball in the middle of the floor and he can get into the body of the defender — Kalkbrenner is one of the leading shot-blockers in the country and he’s a force at the rim. We’re not going over the top of him, but with Derrick and his experience, his ability to get his shoulder into the body, create contact and then go up over, we thought Derrick could have some success with that and that’s what happened.”
Nebraska picked up where it left off to open the second half, scoring the first six points to extend its lead to eight. Kalkbrenner finally got the Jays on the board with a put-back, Creighton’s first paint points since Kalkbrenner’s two dunks in the first three minutes. Creighton added a 3 and a layup to pull within one seven minutes into the half.
The Creighton momentum was short-lived, however, as a bad turnover led to a C.J. Wilcher breakaway dunk, sparking an 11-3 run as Nebraska held the Bluejays scoreless for more than three minutes. Nebraska extended its lead to nine at 42-33 with just over seven minutes to play before a Creighton timeout.
After trading buckets, the Bluejays got a four-point play from Farabello to cut it to five, but Nebraska’s best players stepped up with an answer as Walker found Griesel on a back-cut for a three-point play.
“We needed it, and you put the ball in your two players that had to going tonight and that’s what happened,” Hoiberg said. “One thing I’m proud of with this team is every night it’s somebody different.”
The Huskers delivered the knockout blow with an 8-2 run including three buckets from Walker, doubling a six-point lead with just over two minutes to go, and that proved to be enough to hold on for the win.
Creighton shot 35.3% from the field in the second half as Walker and Griesel nearly matched Creighton by themselves with a combined 25 points.
Sunday’s win was the third straight double-digit win over another high-major opponent, and Nebraska is now 3-1 since Walker’s return to the lineup. The path doesn’t get any easier moving forward, however, as the early Big Ten games against No. 10 Indiana and No. 5 Purdue await.
“This team that we played tonight, they’re going to be competing for a national championship this year; that’s just how they’re built,” Hoiberg said. “For us to come in here on the road in a hostile environment and and find a way to get a win is huge for confidence. We’re at Indiana and Purdue, those are next two, we’ve got a tough one going into the break and then it’s all Big Ten from there, so we have to get wins like this if we want to continue on and play after the regular season.”
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.