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Paint Dominance Propels Nebraska to Sunday Win Over Southern

November 21, 2021

Nebraska took another step forward on Sunday with an 82-59 win over Southern at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

It wasn’t always pretty, thanks mostly to a rough afternoon from the 3-point line and a couple of turnover-prone stretches, but the Huskers shared the ball, pounded it inside and got to the free-throw line at a high rate to improve to 3-2 on the season.

Bryce McGowens recorded his first double-double to lead four Huskers in double figures scoring. The freshman missed all four of his 3-point looks but shot 4-of-5 inside the arc and 10-of-10 at the foul line while grabbing 11 rebounds, dishing out four assists, nabbing two steals and blocking a shot.

“I thought last game was Bryce’s best,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I talked to him about that told him that and you can’t get caught up in the box score when you only score six points and get six shot attempts, but I thought he was terrific in the last game making plays … He continues to grow and continues to get confident in other ways than just scoring the ball. I thought his attack was great, getting to the rim, getting to the line 10 times. He’s falling out of his shot a little bit right now, I just talked to him about; that we’ll get to work on it tomorrow. He’s too good of a shooter to miss those open ones, but making plays, rebounding, to get 11 rebounds — all very important in his growth process.”

Derrick Walker scored a career-high 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting, and he chipped in four boards, three assists and two blocks in 23 minutes.

“Derrick’s got great hands, he’s really finishing well,” Hoiberg said. “That’s two excellent games in a row now for Derrick and very efficient games as well. He’s done a good job finishing in there at the rim. We’re going to need that when that ball’s not going in. You have to find a way to score in other ways and we did a much better job tonight than we have all year in that area.”

Alonzo Verge Jr. added 14 points on 5-of-6 from the field and 6-of-6 from the lone, six rebounds and four assists. Keisei Tominaga chipped in 11 points in 11 minutes off the bench, shooting 3-of-6 form the field, 2-of-5 from 3 and 3-of-4 from the line.

Nebraska dished out 18 assists on 27 made field goals despite shooting 4-of-23 (17.4%) from the 3-point line. The Huskers outscored the Jaguars 46 to 20 in the paint and shot 24-of-30 (80%) from the foul line.

“To get 46 in the paint is very important, obviously, when the ball’s not going through the hoop from the perimeter,” Hoiberg said. “I thought we had some good looks early and then I thought we forced some as well. I thought after that we really made a conscious effort, we got some good high-low opportunity out there because of their switching and really started sharing the ball after that … To get to the free-throw line 30 times and to get as many opportunities in the paint is important when that ball is not going in from the perimeter.”

Nebraska held Southern to 33.8% from the field and 28.6% from 3 while allowing just 10 free-throw attempts and forcing 16 turnovers.

Nebraska got off to a good start sharing the ball with assists on four of their first five buckets, and the Huskers made everything tough on Southern on the other end.

However, the Nebraska’s inability to knock down 3s yet willingness to keep firing them up prevented the Huskers from blowing the game wide open. Nebraska missed its first 11 3s before Kobe Webster finally knocked one down from the top of the key late in the shot clock around the eight-minute mark.

Southern missed 10 straight shots at one point, yet the Huskers only turned that into a 14-4 advantage. Nebraska missed two 3s on the next possession after Webster’s triple for a 1-for-14 start, and then didn’t attempt another 3 the rest of the half. The Huskers gradually extended the lead by pounding the ball inside and getting to the free-throw line.

Nebraska took a 39-22 lead into halftime after holding Southern to 33.3% from the field and forcing eight turnovers. The Huskers weren’t credited with any blocks, but the length and positioning of Walker, Eduardo Andre, McGowens and others made it tough for the Jaguars to score in the paint.

“I think out the gate we stressed to win the game we have to lock up on defense and communicate and I feel like, out of the gate, we did that really well,” McGowens said.

McGowens led everyone with 13 points on 3-of-5 from the field and 7-of-7 from the line and also corralled eight rebounds. Walker added nine points. The Huskers had 10 assists on 13 field goals.

Nebraska turned the ball over six times in the first five minutes of the second half, allowing the Jaguars to cut the deficit to 12, but the Huskers settled in from there and ripped off a 9-0 run to take their largest lead of the game at 50-29.

A couple plays later, Andre turned a near-turnover into a highlight as Breidenbach dove on the floor for a loose ball and passed it up to Andre for a breakaway double-pump reverse dunk. Southern got hot for a stretch and cut it to 16, but Nebraska answered with a 6-0 run. Andre started it with a dunk, then Wilcher found Tominaga for a 3 in transition as a defender ran through him for the four-point play.

The lead swelled to 28 after a 7-0 run including a 3 and a layup from Tominaga and Hoiberg went deep into his bench for the last few minutes. Tominaga was 2-of-14 from 3 in his first four-and-a-half games as a Huskers before knocking down two in the second half.

“Anytime you can see go it as a shooter, it does wonders for your confidence, and sometimes it only takes one game, to get that thing going in, to see it going in, to get on a roll,” Hoiberg said. “As a guy that went through plenty of slumps, sometimes it just takes that one night to see that thing go through the hoop and hopefully Keisei can build off this one, especially in the confidence area.”

Nebraska shot 60.9% from the field in the second half and only turned the ball over three more times in the last 15 minutes.

Nebraska has two more home games before the Huskers hit the road for the first time. The Huskers will return to Pinnacle Bank Arena on Tuesday night for a quick turnaround against Tennessee State.

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