These aren’t your 2019-20 Huskers.
Newcomers accounted for 83.3% of Nebraska’s point total in a 102-55 nonconference win against McNeese State in Wednesday’s season-opener at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
The Huskers came out firing away from deep, converting their first four 3-point attempts as they jumped out to a 14-5 advantage. They led for all but 95 seconds and the fans — if any had been allowed in the building — would have been on their feet after a handful of high-flying highlight-reel plays.
The 102 points are the most Nebraska has scored since the 2018-19 season-opener, a 106-37 win against Mississippi Valley State. The Huskers lost to UC-Riverside 66-47 in the first game of the Fred Hoiberg era last season.
Six of the nine scholarship Huskers who played in the game scored in double figures as Nebraska shot 50% from the field, 41.7% from 3 and 69% from the free-throw line with a 19-to-10 assist-to-turnover ratio.
“I knew we’d come out and compete; that thing I was absolutely confident in,” Hoiberg said. “How you come out, with jitters and that type of thing for the first time in a real game setting, you just don’t know how that will go down. But I was very confident we would come out and compete; that’s just what this group is made of. I was really impressed with how we came out and shared the ball early — 12 assists on our first 16 baskets was a great sign. Nineteen assists overall and 10 turnovers — I thought we did a good job for the most part of making simple plays and taking care of the basketball.”
The Huskers had 16 steals and converted 27 McNeese State turnovers into 43 points on the other end. They scored 29 transition points. Nebraska held McNeese State to 38.2% from the field including 31.8% from deep.
“I thought the activity level on the defensive end was exactly where we needed it,” Hoiberg said. “I thought our guys had great hands, we got some deflections that led to some run-outs, and that’s what gets your confidence going when you can deflect balls and get out in your transition game and get easy baskets. That makes everything else easier.”
Four different Huskers — all of them newcomers — finished with 14 points to lead all scorers. Western Nebraska Community College transfer Teddy Allen scored 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting and chipped in five boards and three steals. Pittsburgh transfer Trey McGowens scored 14 on 5-of-9 shooting including 2-of-2 from deep and a pair of alley-oops.
Nevada transfer Shamiel Stevenson scored 14 points on 4-of-4 from the field and 6-of-8 from the foul line with six rebounds, two steals and two assists in 22 minutes off the bench. It was his first game since Dec. 15, 2018.
“It was a little surreal at first,” Stevenson said. “It’s been like two years plus. It was just good, man. Once I got my feet wet, it just felt really good. I love this team. They made it even better because we just played together. It was amazing.”
Western Kentucky transfer Dalano Banton, a 6-foot-9 point guard, won the jump ball and then proceeded to dish out assists on Nebraska’s first four buckets. He finished with 14 points on 5-of-7 from the field and 6-of-8 from the line, six rebounds, six assists, four blocks and three steals in 22 minutes.
“That’s who Dalano Banton is,” Hoiberg said. “That’s why he’s going to be so important to this team, because he can do a little bit of everything, especially being as small as we are right now. I thought Dalano really competed in guarding their four-man, whoever was in that position. He can front, he’s got the length to go up and contest; he can guard, really, one through four. Being a natural point guard his whole life, he’s had to play a lot against quicker guards.
“You just look at what he did and I thought he really set the tone with his voice out there. He made some really, really good plays going down in transition, made a great skip pass to Trey; he just makes difficult plays look easy, and that’s a sign of a really good point guard. I thought he played really within himself and under control … He’s going to be a stat-sheet stuffer all year.”
Chipola College transfer Lat Mayen knocked down his first three 3-pointers and finished with 13 points and six rebounds while Western Illinois transfer Kobe Webster scored 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
The Huskers slowed down slightly after the hot start as McNeese State cut it to five at 17-12, but Nebraska doubled the Cowboys up the rest of the way to take a 50-26 lead into halftime.
The Huskers worked through a foul-filled, sloppy first eight minutes of the second half and then blew the game wide open with a 25-2 run to take an 86-43 lead. Hoiberg went a little deeper into his bench in the final four minutes, getting redshirt freshman walk-ons Jace Piatkowski and Bret Porter their first playing time at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Piatkowski, the son of Eric Piatkowski, knocked down a corner 3 with 1:16 to go for his first career points, pushing the Huskers into triple digits.
Dru Kuxhausen, a senior guard for McNeese State who graduated from Scottsbluff High School, led the Cowboys with 11 points, shooting 3-of-8 from 3. Kuxhausen led the nation in 3-pointers made a season ago, and Hoiberg credited Thorir Thorbjarnarson for limiting Kuxhausen’s opportunities.
“He was able to lock on that hip,” Hoiberg said. “We weren’t helping off of him and we were going to chase and not switch any time unless it was an emergency, and I thought Thor did a really good job … If he’s open, it’s going in. You just look at the caliber of shots he takes, the degree of difficulty, to shoot 46% from the 3-point line is incredible. The kid’s one of the best shot-makers I’ve seen with deep, deep range and I thought Thor made him work for everything he got.”
Eleven Huskers played on Wednesday. Nebraska announced before the game that Derrick Walker has been suspended by the NCAA for the first 16 games of the season, and freshman center Eduardo Andre was not on the bench during the game. Hoiberg said he couldn’t discuss Andre’s status but that he hoped to get him back soon. Soon after the postgame Zoom press conference, Nebraska sent a release stating that a member of the team had tested positive for COVID-19 and had entered isolation.
“We had one student athlete that did not participate today because of a positive test result from the Big Ten Conference’s testing protocol,” the release said. “He is in isolation and following all local and Lancaster County health guidelines. We will also conduct all the necessary procedures included in the Big Ten Conference return to play protocols to ensure his health and safety before he returns to team activities. As consistent with all of our athletic programs, we report any positive test result to the University and it is included in its daily reports to the Lancaster County Health Department.”
The Huskers will begin Golden Window Classic play on Thursday with an afternoon game against Nevada. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. CT on BTN.
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.