Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Sam Hoiberg Makes Most of Opportunity Against Northwestern

January 27, 2023

Ahead of Nebraska’s game against Northwestern, Coach Fred Hoiberg said his son, redshirt freshman walk-on Sam Hoiberg, would be the team’s third-string point guard following the season-ending injury to Emmanuel Bandoumel. The Huskers were down to just eight healthy scholarship players, three of which were big men.

The 6-foot guard out of Lincoln Pius X had played in nine games, all in garbage time, and had totaled seven points, three rebounds and just one made field goal in 12 minutes.

Keisei Tominaga scored Nebraska’s first 12 points in seven minutes against the Wildcats, and when he needed a breather with the Huskers down by one, Coach Hoiberg called Player Hoiberg’s number. The latter made a play the first chance he got, and went on to play 18 minutes in the game as he continued to make the most of his opportunity.

The Huskers outscored the Wildcats by 11 points while Sam Hoiberg was on the floor and he finished with six points on 3-of-5 shooting, six rebounds (a team high) and an assist. He also took a charge. Here’s a compilation of the most impactful players Hoiberg made.

I included six impressive, impactful plays in that compilation. On the first, he catches Northwestern’s Chase Audige ball-watching and crashes the glass for the put-back.

On the second, he attacks the closeout from Nick Martinelli, reads the help rotation from Tydus Verhoeven, comes to a two-foot jump-stops and finds Jamarques Lawrence circling behind him for the 3.

On the third, Hoiberg drops into help as the ball swings to Martinelli in the corner. As Martinelli puts it on the deck to attack along the baseline, Hoiberg runs across the lane, gets outside of the restricted circle and takes the contact for a charge (he probably didn’t get set in time, but he got the call anyway).

On the fourth, he feeds Derrick Walker near the top of the key then immediately back-cuts, catching Audige off guard, and Walker hits him for the layup.

On the fifth, he makes Robbie Beran play for a weak box out and high-points the missed free throw from Walker to get Nebraska an extra possession.

Finally, Hoiberg grabs a long defensive rebound then pushes it up the floor himself. Brooks Barnhizer doesn’t do a good job of stopping the ball, so he continued to attack and went up with a lefty extension finish over the 6-foot-6 Barnhizer for the bucket.

“I’m proud of him for the way he went out there,” Fred Hoiberg said on Friday. “Any time you get your first significant minutes, there are generally a lot of nerves. I remember my first minutes in the playoff series against the Bulls I threw the ball right to Scottie Pippen. The thing about Sam is he works. He’s always in here, getting extra shots. He’s a confident kid — they get that from their mother — and he just went out there and played and played hard and did a lot of really good things for us, including rebounding. He led us in rebounding. A couple of shots, they went in and out. And I just thought he made a really good impact; you look at his plus-minus, I think he was a plus-11 on the game and Denim [Dawson] was the only other guy that was a plus; he was a plus-1. So he made a positive impact on the game and that’s what it’s all about as a reserve player when you get your name called is to go out and make a positive impact on the floor.”

Hoiberg admitted he probably coaches his son a little harder than the other players at times, but for the most part the redshirt freshman is just part of the team.

“He turned it over one day and I made him run, and Derrick came over and said ‘That was funny Coach, that you made Sam do that,’” Fred Hoiberg said. “I guess it’s human nature to be a little bit harder on your kid, but I try to treat everybody the same regardless of who it is, and Sam is no different.”

That’s the approach Coach Hoiberg took to the game on Wednesday, despite his son’s success. He said he got too caught up in the flow of the game to truly appreciate the moment at the time, but in looking back was proud to see his son play a big part in making a second-half push.

“Obviously we hit some adversity in that game and I just tried to find a way to get us out of it,” Fred Hoiberg said. “I thought the run we made was was great. We did a lot of good things in that run where we were down, I think it was down five or seven, and we turned turn it around and took a five-point lead. Sam was part of that and our young guys were part of that; I think it was Wilhelm [Breidenbach], Keisei, Denim and Jamarques were the other guys on the floor. So to see those young guys get the thing turned around … Those young guys showed a lot of grit, they showed a lot of character, they showed a lot of toughness, and they’re going to continue to get good opportunity just based on where we are with our roster right now.”

In order to overcome the loss of Gary and Bandoumel moving forward, Nebraska will need its underclassmen to step up. On Wednesday, that spark came from an unexpected source in Sam Hoiberg, and he’ll likely get more chances moving forward to contribute as a result.

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