Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Nebrasketball Film Study: Keisei Tominaga’s 30-Point Explosion

February 06, 2023

One of the best stories from the 2022-23 season for the Huskers has been the improvement from Keisei Tominaga in his second year in the program. Sunday’s 30-point explosion against Penn State put all of that improvement on display as Tominaga led the Huskers to victory with a brilliant offensive performance.

The 6-foot-2 guard finished with a career-high 30 points, shooting 12-of-18 from the field including 5-of-10 from 3 and 1-of-2 from the foul line. Let’s take a deeper dive into how Tominaga was able to torch the Nittany Lions.

It’s only right that we begin with his 3-pointers. Tominaga is sitting at 39.1% on 4.6 attempts per game after Sunday’s performance. Here’s a look at all five triples he hit against the Nittany Lions — note the various locations, distances and types.

His first shot of the day was a one-dribble, pump-fake, reload and shoot 3 from the top of the key. Not an easy shot, but he knocked it down, and said after the game that it was probably at that point that he knew he’d have a good day.

We know distance means little to Tominaga, and his second shot came from somewhere in northeastern Kansas (I called it Hiawatha on the Nebraska Shootaround podcast); Andrew Funk was playing off him so he let it fly with 13 still on the shot clock. His third 3 was from the logo as well on the first play of the second half; Funk played under the handoff and called for a switch late, so Tominaga rose up and made them pay from the Southwest corner of the Panhandle.

The fourth 3 was probably the most impressive by degree of difficulty. First, at no point did he stop moving in the possession, flying around running off screens or setting screens for others. Late in the possession, after Griesel picked up his dribble in the post, Tominaga cut from near the top of the key to the wing as Funk turned his head, giving Griesel a kick-out option. Funk recovered to meet him on the catch and didn’t fall for the pump-fake, so Tominaga took a dribble to his right and stepped back for the fadeaway 3 with 5 on the shot clock — bottom of the net.

The final 3 definitely shouldn’t have counted as Tominaga ran off a screen and lost the ball trying to rise up, but the official called it a tip by the defense, making it a missed 3 and an offensive rebound. Tominaga recovered the ball then rose up again, making his second chance count to put the exclamation point on the 30-piece.

Tominaga’s shot breakdown is delightful. He’s only 8-for-31 (25.8%) on unguarded catch-and-shoot 3s according to Synergy Sports. However, he’s 27-for-60 (45%) on guarded ones and is 7-for-19 (36.8%) on pull-up 3s. Tominaga is a tough shot maker, which he needs to be considering he’s not a guy that tends to create a lot of separation at his size and athleticism level.

Overall, he’s ranked in the 99th percentile nationally in spot-up scoring at 1.448 points per possession (PPP). He’s not quite as good taking handoffs (0.882 PPP, 55th percentile) or running off screens (0.75 PPP, 34th percentile), which speaks to some of his inconsistency. But he had everything going on Sunday.

“Most of our plays are for Keisei, to get him going,” freshman Jamarques Lawrence said after the game. “When he’s going, you see how that goes.”

Tominaga is more than just a shooter, however. He’s grown into an elite cutter, leveraging the attention teams pay to him on the perimeter to open up cutting lanes for easy buckets. It’s still a pretty small sample size (Synergy only has 12 possessions logged as a cutter) but h’s in the 93rd percentile, scoring 1.542 PPP.

On Sunday, Tominaga scored five buckets on cuts and also earned a trip to the foul line.

Notice the way Tominaga sets up his defender on these plays, faking either running off screens or setting screens for others then slipping to the rim when his defender bites. On the fifth clip, Camren Wynter is even face-guarding him in the corner (not surprising considering he had lit them up). Wynter just barely turned his head but Tominaga noticed it and immediately cut along the baseline, and with how tight Wynter was he had no chance to recover.

Also, notice who delivered the ball on every single one of those cuts — Derrick Walker. Six of his seven assists went to Tominaga, five of which were on cuts. Those two have developed terrific chemistry.

Tominaga has become such a smart player, understanding how defenses are guarding him and taking advantage. If teams don’t respect him enough on the perimeter, he shoots with no hesitation. If teams load up to take away the perimeter threat, he makes them pay with back cuts. Fred Hoiberg does a great job putting him in a lot of actions where he can take advantage of his gravity and ability to read the defense to create scoring opportunities, and Tominaga also never stops moving off the ball.

“People label Keisei as a shooter, but his cutting off of Derrick, off of Griesel, is really impressive,” Hoiberg said. “When teams are hugging him like they were today and like they always play him, cutting is something that he has to do … It was good to see Keisei really get us going early. He did the same thing against Northwestern — obviously we didn’t didn’t finish that one — but he got off to a great start and sustained it for 40, and he did it with cramps. He had cramps in both legs, his back was acting up, and it was fun. The passion that kid has … I’m never going to try and do anything take that kid’s passion away. He’s so much fun to root for and coach just because of how much fun he has playing the game.”

Ten of Tominaga’s 12 buckets were mostly a result of good offensive execution to get 3s and uncontested layups, but he also created a couple of buckets on his own in what was a pretty complete offensive performance.

On the first, Lawrence steals the ball and saves it to Tominaga beyond halfcourt. He pushed it ahead himself with Denim Dawson filling the lane on the right side to create a two-on-two situation. Jalen Pickett (No. 22) essentially ignores Dawson, however, turning it into a one-on-two for Tominaga (he actually had Lawrence open sprinting to the left corner, but his eyes were fixed on the rim). Tominaga split the two defenders and finished with his inside hand — his strong left on the right side of the rim. He put just enough English on the ball for it to catch the front of the rim and roll in.

The second bucket was his one bucket from the second level. Tominaga set a screen then received the ball from Walker. Tominaga looked to use a ball screen from Walker, but the defender (Kanye Clary) jumped over the top. So instead Tominaga spun around and attacked back toward the baseline, pulling up and hitting a 15-footer. That was his fifth bucket of the game.

“It is infectious,” Hoiberg said. “You see that, when he hits those shots, when he gets into the lane and kind of hits those circus shots, you see the bench go crazy for him, you see his teammates out on the floor. It’s just fun to have a guy that plays with that much passion and energy.”

One thing that I noticed as well during the game was Tominaga actually passed the ball really well in addition to all the scoring he did. He only finished with one assist, but he put his teammates in scoring positions a handful of times with great reads and didn’t turn the ball over all all.

Tominaga isn’t a dynamic pick-and-roll ball-handler, but he made two really nice pocket passes to Walker and also rifled a pass straight to him on a roll. Walker missed the first shot and got fouled on the second and third in those pick-and-roll situations.

In the last clip, Tominaga took a handoff from Sam Hoiberg and both Penn State defenders jumped to him (either by design because he had been torching them or because of a miscommunication). Tominaga immediately recognized it and passed the ball back to Hoiberg near the corner where he could attack the help defender closing out for a baseline drive and layup.

The one assist he did get credit for was a nice read. Nebraska had numbers after a steal from Lawrence, who dumped it off to Tominaga trailing. Funk jumped out to Tominaga as Lawrence popped to the corner, and Tominaga hit him for the 3 before Pickett could make it out to the corner.

Sunday was the best performance of Tominaga’s career, but it wasn’t an extreme outlier. While he’ll still occasionally fire up an ambitious heat check, his decision-making and consistency as a shooter are leaps and bounds better than last year when he was more of a novelty than a reliable, effective piece. This season, he’s become a legitimately good offensive player, and Nebraska is benefitting from it.

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