One step forward, one or two steps back seems to be Nebraska’s path this season. Fresh off a 76-70 win over Iowa, the Huskers dropped a 62-57 game at Northwestern on Saturday afternoon.
Just like against Rutgers, Nebraska (7-9, 2-3 Big Ten) let its offensive struggles impact its defense in the first half as the Huskers fell behind by as much as 18. Nebraska regrouped in the second half and dug in defensively while senior Matej Kavas and freshman Kevin Cross Jr. provided a late offensive spark, but the comeback fell just a bit short.
The Wildcats (6-9, 1-4 Big Ten) picked up there first conference win while Nebraska’s road woes continued as the Huskers fell to 0-4 in away games.
Cam Mack flirted with another triple-double, finishing with 11 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, but he shot just 4-of-13 from the field and 2-of-5 from the line. Haanif Cheatham scored 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting. Cross and Kavas chopped in nine points apiece, though Cross shot 3-of-11 in 21 minutes to get his points. Once again, Jervay Green did not see the floor.
Nebraska shot 31.3% for the game including 30% from deep. Northwestern cooled off after a hot start to finish at 39.7% from the field. The Wildcats tied their season-high with 10 3-pointers, but most of those came in the first half and they only shot 34.5% for the game.
Northwestern came out in an extended 2-3 zone to start the game and Nebraska got some good looks early, attacking the gaps and kicking out or dumping off to the big man. But shots weren’t falling. After a 7-2 Nebraska start including five points from Dachon Burke Jr. (pushing him over 1,000 for his career), Northwestern responded with a 12-2 run including a pair of 3s by Pat Spencer.
Thorir Thorbjarnarson snapped the streak with a 3, Northwestern answered with a 3 by AJ Turner, Haanif Cheatham kept it going with a triple of his own and then Cheatham got a steal and drew a foul on the other end, splitting a pair of free throws to make it a one-point game. Another Northwestern 3 pushed it back to four before Charlie Easley scored inside off a nice pass from Cross.
The Nebraska offense completely fell apart from there as Northwestern hit the Huskers with a 16-1 run to take a 36-19 lead. Cross hit a 3 then Burke got a steal and slam to cut into the deficit, but Miller Kopp knocked down back-to-back 3s to push the lead to 18. Cross hit his second 3 of the half to make it 42-27 and neither side scored in the final 55 seconds.
Nebraska had the last crack at points but Mack ran the ball all the way down and forced up a desperation 3 at the buzzer that came up a few feet short, summarizing the first half.
Northwestern hit six of its first nine 3s and shot 8-14 overall from deep in the first half. Nebraska shot 10-of-33 (30.3%) from the field and 2-of-6 from the free-throw line in the first 20 minutes.
Nebraska came out determined to get the ball inside, opening the half on a 12-5 run to cut the deficit to eight. The Huskers’ first 12 points all came in the paint with three assisted buckets and a put-back.
AJ Turner got a bucket inside to push the lead back to 10 and then both sides went cold as 2:45 passed before another score, a mid-range jumper by Kopp. Mack converted a three-point play but Turner hit a 3-pointer then freshman big man Jared Jones took a charge on defense then dropped in a jump hook on offense to push the lead back to 14.
Nebraska went scoreless for nearly three-and-a-half minutes before Matej Kavas hit a pair of free throws. A minute later, Kavas ended Nebraska drought from the field as well with a 3-pointer, the Huskers’ first of the second half after missing their first seven.
Nebraska nearly went another four minutes without a field goal, scoring just one point on a free throw by Mack, but then Kavas splashed another 3 followed by a 3 from Cross to make it 60-54 with 2:26 to play. On three straight possessions Northwestern missed the front end of the bonus, and after the third one Nebraska finally made the wildcats pay as Mack banked in a 3 with 50.8 seconds to play.
The Huskers got one last stop too give themselves a chance and Nebraska went for the tie, drawing up a play to get Burke a look from deep. However, Spencer flew in at the last second and disrupted the shot. Koop grabbed the rebound and hit two free throws — Northwestern first two makes of the game — to seal it.
Nebraska held Northwestern to 8-of-30 (26.7%) from the field including 2-of-15 (13.3%) from 3, but the Huskers didn’t shoot much better at 11-of-34 (32.4%) and 4-of-15 (26.7%) from deep.
Nebraska will have one more game on the road before returning to Pinnacle Bank Arena as the Huskers head to Columbus on Tuesday to take on an Ohio State team coming off four straight losses after putting together a terrific nonconference record.
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.