Run it Back: Nebraska's Overtime Win Over Southern
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Run it Back: Nebraska’s Overtime Win Over Southern

November 23, 2019

The Huskers haven’t gotten off to the kind start they would have preferred this season. They’re 2-2 and haven’t even played another high-major team yet, nor have they looked great from start to finish in either of their wins.

However, seeing the way the players reacted during and after the game serves as a strong reminder of just how new this is for most of Nebraska’s roster. If everything goes according to plan, before too long, a game like Friday’s 93-86 overtime win will be a cause for concern, not a reason for celebration.

But for the time being, while this team learns about itself and the players adjust to this level, it’s OK to revel in the small victories. Jervay Green and Cam Mack are two big personalities, and they’re going to do everything they can to have fun while they’re out there on the court.

Mack, who spent last year playing junior college ball in Salt Lake City and is now the starting point guard on a Big Ten team, went to Twitter after the game to share a message with Nebraska fans.

Yvan Ouedraogo, the 17-year-old Frenchman, came up big in the overtime period with six of his season-high 11 points, and he too wanted to send a message after the game.

Even graduate transfer Matej Kavas fired off a simple GBR on Twitter after the game.

The only players on this active roster who have played high-major basketball before are Thorir Thorbjarnarson and Haanif Cheatham. Five of Nebraska’s top nine have never played Division I basketball of any kind. That’s all worth stating once again as Nebraska stumbles through the nonconference. 

The Huskers haven’t played close to a complete game, and they may never get all the way there this season. But they’re making progress.

“I can see it in the huddle that they were engaged,” Fred Hoiberg said after the game. “In the game a couple weeks ago I could see heads down, not pouting per se, but hunched over shoulders. Tonight, those guys were engaged, and they kept going and kept fighting and kept battling. That’s growth. That’s growth for our group. If we can continue to do that and, again, find a way to battle on the boards, and make a free throw here and there, we’re going to have a chance. We scored 93 points and missed 18 free throws. We did a lot of good things tonight, but rebounding is a huge concern and a huge area that we need to get better.”

Green said the players are picking each other up in huddles, especially in the face of adversity, which isn’t something they’ve dealt with very well to this point according to their coach.

With all that out of the way, there’s a lot of actual basketball stuff worth touching on in this game.

First off, we have to start with he free-throw shooting. Oy vey.

Nebraska shot 19-of-37 (51.4%), marking the third time in four games the Huskers have shot under 60% from the charity stripe. This game never should have gotten to overtime; had the Huskers hit their free throws at an acceptable rate the Jaguars never would have gotten back in the game.

“We shoot them,” Green said. “I don’t know what’s going on. It looked good and I just don’t know. But we shoot them, we shoot them a lot; every day, actually.”

When Hoiberg was asked about it, he said simply “it’s mental,” and declined to elaborate any further. 

All nine Huskers took at least one trip to the free throw line, and seven of them missed at least one attempt. Four of them shot 50% or worse. Dachon Burke Jr., who led the team with 17 attempts in the first three games and made 13 of them (a respectable 76.5%), went a brutal 1-for-6 against Southern. Green, who was spectacular most of the night, had a chance to put the Huskers up at the line with less than 20 seconds left and only hit one, which is why the game went to overtime. Against Southern Utah, Mack had a chance to hit two free throws at the end of regulation and missed both, and the Huskers went on to lose in overtime.

Nebraska has left 48 points at the foul line in four games. That’s going to get the Huskers buried if they don’t find a way to fix it soon.

I mentioned Burke above so I might as well move on to his usage in this game. Nebraska’s second-leading scorer played a season-low 17 minutes. Eleven of those minutes came in the first half. He checked out at the 13:46 mark in the second half and never returned. He watched the overtime period from the bench. Burke finished with nine points on 3-of-6 shooting (2-of-3 from 3), three rebounds, two blocks and an assist.

“With this team its going to be different guys on different nights,” Hoiberg said. “I thought Burke played well, he played solid, but I couldn’t take Thor off the floor. With those other guys out there defending the way they were, that’s the lineup we went with and that’s just the way the rotation worked tonight.”

Hoiberg said that Thorir Thorbjarnarson played as well as anybody he threw out there on Friday night. Plus-minus is one of the noisiest stats out there and rarely does it mean much in any one game, but in this case it backs up Hoiberg’s feel — Burke was a team-worst minus-4 while Thorbjarnarson was a game-high plus-18.

That’s the way it worked out tonight, but it might be a very different situation on Monday when the Huskers take on Washington State down in the Cayman Islands. Hoiberg is still getting a feel for his roster and his rotations. Nebraska is starting four guards right now, and that isn’t always going to be a tenable lineup.

Matej Kavas and Thorbjarnarson both provide a little bit more size than the Huskers get with the true four-guard lineup, and they both bring dramatically different skill sets. Hoiberg is going to continue to ride the hot hand with will try to stick with what’s working. He hit the right buttons to get the win against Southern and that included putting Burke on the bench. However, the junior guard could turn around and lead the Huskers in scoring on Monday and be out there in the closing lineup.

The last point I’ll touch on is the defense. Through four games this season, Nebraska has shown the ability to put together stretches of lock-down defense where they’re up in ball-handlers faces, putting pressure on the ball, forcing turnovers and bod shots. However, it seems like most of the time those spurts are followed by the exact opposite kind of defense where the other team gets everything it wants with little resistance. We saw the same thing against the Jaguars.

Te Huskers allowed Southern to hit its first seven field goal attempts of the second half. For the game, senior guard Micah Bradford went off for 31 points on 11-of-20 from the field and 6-of-11 from 3, and there were plays in the second half where Nebraska was helping off of him or didn’t even bother to get a hand up to contest the shot.

“Something we can learn from with this group, but we closed out with our hand down to a kid that had 27 points a couple times,” Hoiberg said. “It’s inexcusable. You can’t do that. Again, I give our guys credit for finding a way to win a hard-fought game. I was nervous going into this one; I knew how hard that team played. I could see it. They have transfers that have played at a higher level and I think this is a team that’s going to have a great chance of winning their league.”

Shots are either going to fall or they’re not; some days there’s nothing you can do about it. However, defensive effort is something you can always control and Nebraska cannot continue letting the circumstances of the game dictate how they defend. 

Nebraska is far too streaky in all facets of the game right now.

  • Never miss the latest news from Hail Varsity!

    Join our free email list by signing up below.

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap