Nebraska’s regular season mercifully came to an end on Sunday afternoon as the Golden Gophers ran the short-handed Huskers off the elevated floor at the Barn in a 107-75 Minnesota win.
Nebraska went 2-2 to open Big Ten play and then lost its last 16 games. The Huskers finished the regular season 7-24 and 2-18 in Big Ten play. The Huskers will be the No. 14 seed in next week’s Big Ten Tournament.
Minnesota (14-16, 8-12 Big Ten) is the first team to hang triple digits on Nebraska since before the turn of the century. The Gophers scored 1.427 points per possession for the game and Richard Pitino began pulling his starters with almost six minutes to go.
“Defensively, we just never made them uncomfortable enough to win this game,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said during his post-game radio interview.
Minnesota features one of the most dominant big men in the country in 6-foot-10, 240-pound sophomore Daniel Oturu. He entered Saturday as the only player in the country averaging over 20 points and 11 rebounds. Nebraska’s game plan was focused on limiting his touches, much like the Huskers did with Luka Garza in Lincoln, but it backfired in a big way as the Gophers set a new school record with 18 3-pointers (on 35 attempts, 51.4%).
Sophomore guard Gabe Kalscheur tied Minnesota’s single-game record with eight 3-pointers on 11 attempts. The Huskers shot 5-of-22 as a team. Nebraska outscored the Gophers 21 to 12 in second-chance points, by two in the paint and by seven at the free-throw line (the Huskers shot a season-high 82.4%), but the Gophers’s 39-point advantage from deep was too much to overcome.
The Huskers got off to a good start, scoring the first six points of the game. After 10-and-a-half minutes, Minnesota led 23-22. The Gophers pulled ahead with a 6-0 run before a three-point play by Jervay Green made it 29-25 with just under six-and-a-half minutes to play in the half.
Then the onslaught began.
“I liked our energy early,” Hoiberg said. “I thought we got off to a good start. I think it was 29-25, and then we missed a few easy ones — had two layups and three wide open 3s in that stretch — then we just stopped guarding.”
Minnesota scored on 15 of its next 19 possessions to take a 64-39 lead less than three minutes into the second half, and the Gophers just kept firing away. A couple of buckets by Green cut the deficit to 21 but that’s as close as Nebraska got.
With Cam Mack and Dachon Burke Jr. back in Lincoln serving a suspension, the Huskers dressed just nine players including walk-on freshmen Jace Piatkowski and Bret Porter, who are redshirting this season and there only in case of emergency. Four Huskers played 33 minutes or more and the other three each cracked 20.
“Obviously we’re playing guys a lot of minutes and I’m asking a lot of them to go out there and try to go fight together,” Hoiberg said. “We had seven players eligible to play tonight and four of those are freshmen, and a couple of them had not a lot of minutes in game situations. Thor’s out there battling his tail off every time he steps on the floor and he’s playing a ton of minutes and he’s exhausted; you can see it out there. Haanif’s playing a lot of minutes, Jervay’s playing more now obviously with what’s happened here the last week.”
Still, Hoiberg said, that’s no excuse; the Huskers still have to find a way to get back and offer up some kind of resistance defensively, and it just didn’t happen on Sunday.
With his Husker career winding down, senior Haanif Cheatham came out looking to get his shots up from the opening tip. He led he Huskers with 17 points but shot just 8-of-22 from the field in 38 minutes. Jervay green got the start and scored 15 points on 15 shots and four free throws. Kevin Cross scored 10 points on 4-of-15 shooting in 20 minutes off the bench.
Thorir Thorbjarnarson scored 14 points on 4-of-10 from the field and 5-of-5 from the line but was just 1-of-5 from deep. Freshman Charlie Easley started in Mack’s place for the second straight game and led the Huskers with six rebounds in 33 minutes, chipping in six points as well. Freshman Akol Arop knocked down his first 3-pointer of the season and added a layup for five points.
Nebraska will face No. 11 seed Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis on Wednesday night. Hoiberg said he’ll determine who will travel to Chicago for the tournament in the “next couple of days.” Mack and Burke are currently suspended indefinitely.
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.