In Wednesday’s season-opener, Nebraska looked like a whole new team. On Thursday, they looked like the same old Huskers in a 69-66 loss to Nevada to open Golden Window Classic play.
Despite immense offensive difficulties all game long, the Huskers had a chance to send the game to overtime at the buzzer. After a go-ahead 3 with 7.1 to go, Fred Hoiberg called a timeout to draw up a play.
The Huskers in-bounded to Banton and he pushed the ball up the court, raising up for his 11th 3 of the game with three seconds to go. He missed, just like he had on his previous four attempts after a 3-for-6 start. Hoiberg said he drew up a flare screen on a hammer play (Teddy Allen was the intended shooter). However, the timing looked to be a little off and the ball never left Banton’s hands.
Banton’s final 3-point attempt was the 41st of the game for Nebraska, a new school record. Nine of them went in as the Huskers shot just 22%. Nebraska wasn’t much better inside the arc, however, shooting 29% from the field for the game. After dishing out 19 assists in the first game, Nebraska had just 13 of them on Thursday.
“We took a lot of forced, just kind of jab-jab without movement,” Hoiberg said. “When we move, we get shots. That’s been evident all through our preseason and practices in the last game. We had great looks. I thought we had some really good ones, but unfortunately those didn’t go in and then I thought we forced them. I thought we had too many forced shots where we didn’t continue to trust the offense.”
Nevada’s defensive game plan was to pack the paint and limit driving lanes, and the Huskers played right into their hands with a lot of offensive stagnation. Without a true post presence (Hoiberg said the suspended Derrick Walker is the team’s best interior presence) Nebraska relies on penetration to create opportunities inside, and the Huskers just didn’t show enough patience.
“We definitely noticed being on the floor out there, even when we got into the timeouts, that the ball was not moving as much as it should,” Banton said. “Every time we went into the timeout, coming out we tried to correct it. We had spurts where we would get the movement back where we want it to be where we would go on a little 10-point run or something. With this team, if we just keep moving the ball and playing for each other, we’re going to be great.”
Banton led the Huskers with 18 points on 6-of-17 from the field and 3-of-4 from the line, seven rebounds and five assists. Teddy Allen added 17 points on 3-of-11 from the field (2-of-7 from deep) and 9-of-13 from the foul line, six rebounds and five steals. The other three starters (Lat Mayen, Thorir Thorbjarnarson and Trey McGowens) combined for seven points including 2-of-16 from 3.
The Huskers got a big spark off the bench from Kobe Webster (13 points on 4-of-10 from the field, 2-of-6 from 3 and 3-of-4 from the line) and Shamiel Stevenson (nine points on 3-of-5 from the field and 3-of-3 from the line) to give them a chance.
“Shamiel and Kobe, they’re guys that come off the bench that are starter guys,” Banton said. “With our team, we have a lot of depth and them coming off the bench, bringing that fire and bringing that energy, some instant offense — you see Shamiel working the room and getting some easy buckets when we had nothing going; Kobe coming in and making a floater, making a 3 when we don’t have anything at the end of the half when we need a little bit of juice going in.”
Nevada outscored the Huskers 30 to 18 in the paint. McGowens, Nebraska’s best perimeter player, was limited to 23 minutes by foul trouble; theHuskers were Plus-9 when he was on the court.
“We’ve got to guard the dribble better,” Hoiberg said. “We have to be much better in that area. We can’t foul them, we can’t put them on the free-throw line. Obviously they had a huge size advantage on us. That’s where it starts, it starts with guarding the bounce. Early, we were fronting, we had great activity, we had good back-side help, and that was resulting in turnovers. We turned them over 21 times. But we can’t gamble, we can’t stab and allow them to get into the paint like they did tonight.”
Nebraska got off to a great start defensively, forcing five turnovers and holding Nevada to 0-for-4 shooting to open the game, but the Huskers weren’t able to turn that into success on the other end as they only managed to score four points themselves in the first four-and-a-half minutes.
A couple of Nebraska 3s gave the Huskers a 10-2 lead about 9 minutes in, but they went ice-cold after that. Nevada scored seven straight to cut the deficit to one until a pair of free throws by Yvan Ouedraogo.
“Our energy at the beginning of the game defensively was absolutely off the charts, getting deflections, getting run-outs,” Hoiberg said. “We just didn’t convert, and that cost us. We could have very easily, instead of being up 10, been up 16 or 20 had we made those early layups and free throws.”
Nevada tied the game up at 13-13 and 15-15, and then Desmond Cambridge Jr. took over. The Brown transfer scored 16 of Nevada’s last 20 points while Nebraska’s offensive woes continued. Cambridge’s final bucket, a 3-pointer, gave Nevada its largest lead at 35-26 with 26 seconds remaining.
On the other end, Webster missed a 3, but Ouedraogo corralled the board and kicked it back out to Webster. The grad transfer tried it again with a step-back and buried it with 1 second on the clock to make it 35-29 at halftime.
“I didn’t love our body language at the end of that first half,” Hoiberg said. “Kobe hit the big one to cut it to a two-possession game and that was the first thing I got on them for at halftime was the body language … and they bought into it. They came out and we did play out best stretch those first 10 minutes of the second half.”
The Huskers chipped away at the lead until a 3-pointer from Banton tied it at 41-all. Grant Sherfield hit a pair of free throws to retake the lead, then Nebraska used a 10-0 run fueled by Nevada turnovers to pull ahead 51-43. A bucket by Zane Meeks interrupted the run, but layups by Banton and Webster pushed the lead to 10 at 55-45 midway through the second half.
Nebraska’s offense ground to a halt from there, however, as steals turned into fouls and transition buckets turned into halfcourt stagnation.
After taking control with a 14-2 run, the Huskers gave up a 17-3 stretch as the Wolfpack surged ahead 62-58 with three-and-a-half minutes to go.
Nebraska and Nevada traded scores, then the Huskers scored six straight with a 3 from Mayen and an and-one dunk by Banton, both off Nevada turnovers. A hand check sent Sherfield to the line for a pair of bonus free throws to tie the game and Mayen turned it over with 32 seconds left. Nevada ran down the clock and Sherfield — who led the Wolfpack with a game-high 19 points — rose up for the go-ahead 3 over the out-stretched hand of the 6-foot-9 Banton.
“Unfortunately, we dug ourselves that hole and just couldn’t get out of it,” Hoiberg said. “We missed good looks. We missed shots we’re going to make. We missed free throws we’re going to make. We missed layups and dunks that we’re going to make. But that can’t affect the other end. I thought we were too handsy. We put our hands on them and put them on the free-throw line way too much, and a big part of that was early when we got ourselves in foul trouble and put them into the bonus very quickly into the second half.”
The Huskers will get Friday off before returning to Pinnacle Bank Arena on Saturday to close out Golden Window Classic play against North Dakota State.
“We’ll get together tomorrow, we’ll have a short, light workout, prepare, put a game plan in and try to come out and do better on Saturday,” Hoiberg said. “There are a lot of things we’ll have early in the season that we can learn from. I’m confident in this group, I love this group. They’re going to bounce back and be in the gym eager to get better tomorrow, and hopefully we’ll take a step in the right direction.”
The Wolfpack beat the Bison 62-48 on Wednesday and finished 2-0 in the Golden Window Classic. Tipoff against North Dakota State is set for 11 a.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.