Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Sam Hoiberg Plays the Hero in Nebraska’s 70-66 Overtime Win Against Maryland

February 19, 2023

Derrick Walker stuffed the stat sheet and led everyone in scoring. Keisei Tominaga recorded his fifth straight game of 20-plus points. Sam Griesel played through foul trouble to score 12 points and convert some tough buckets at important moments.

But the hero of Sunday’s win against Maryland was Sam Hoiberg, the 6-foot walk-on son of Coach Fred Hoiberg. The redshirt freshman played a career-high 37 minutes, scored nine points and made the two biggest defensive plays of the evening as the Huskers took down the Terrapins in overtime, 70-66.

First, after Walker tied the game up with 30 seconds to go in regulation, Maryland called a timeout to set up a play. Jamhir Young, Maryland’s leading scorer, isolated on Hoiberg but couldn’t get past him, settling for a step-back jumper just before the buzzer that didn’t fall.

“He’s a strong left-hand driver, and that’s where he goes to when he wants to score,” Sam Hoiberg said. “So it was just sit on his left hand as much as I can, do not let him get that floater that he hit on me earlier, and he took the lead with that one. But just make him go right. He took that step back and I don’t think he’s as comfortable going to the right.”

Then in overtime, with Nebraska leading by one, Maryland called another timeout with 37.7 to play to set something up. Hakim Hart looked to get the ball in to Young but Hoiberg shot the passing lane and took it the other way for a layup to put Nebraska up by three with 30 seconds to go.

“I feel like pretty much every one of these teams is going to their one in that situation and they do a zip or something up the floor,” Sam Hoiberg said. “So I knew at some point I was going to try to get that steal, and I just got it today. Perfect timing.”

Walker blocked Hakim Hart at the rim on the other end and Nebraska got the ball in to Hoiberg, who Maryland sent to the line with 19.2 to play. He hit both shots to put Nebraska up five and the Huskers held on to win their fourth game in their last five outings and improve to 14-14 (and 7-10 in Big Ten play).

Before Sunday, the Huskers hadn’t been .500 or better this late in the year since the 2018-19 season. Hoiberg shot 3-of-5 from the field including 1-of-3 from 3 and 4-of-4 from the free-throw line with six rebounds, two steals, one assist and no turnovers.

“We’ve battled injuries as a team and since that happened, the theme has just been when your number is called, step up,” Walker said. “Sam’s been doing an unbelievable job of it … I’m proud of him for making plays, because you don’t see him in practice. He plays hard. He plays hard and sometimes we’ve got to tell him to tone it down a little bit. But he plays hard and he deserves everything. He deserves to get that steal. He puts in the work, man, and I’m just so proud of him.”

Nebraska reached the 70-point mark for the fifth straight game, though it took an extra five minutes to get there. However, the win more closely resembled the pre-injury wins than it did the las three as the Huskers flexed heir defensive muscles and held Maryland (18-9, 9-7) to 33.3% shooting, won the turnover battle by two and did a much better job capitalizing on those takeaways, outscoring Maryland 16-5 in points off turnovers.

“We executed the game plan really well defensively,” Sam Hoiberg said. “We’re supposed to fly around and that’s exactly what we did, made them take tough shots. And we missed some rebounds; if we had rebounded better, they would have even less points. So that’s our goal to do on defense every time we go out there.”

Nebraska’s hot streak from beyond the arc came to an end as the Huskers shot just 3-of-16 from 3 and 41.4% from the field overall, but the Huskers went 19-for-25 (76%) from the foul line and outscored Maryland in the paint by six to offset the Terrapins’ 12-point advantage from 3.

Derrick Walker finished with a game- and career-high 23 points on 7-of-12 from the field and 9-of-11 from the foul line, seven rebounds, six assists and three blocks. Maryland made Tominaga work hard for his points but he still found his way to 20 thanks to a 3 early in overtime.

“Finally Keisei got loose; they were all over him and did a great job covering him and taking away the 3, but he hit that huge one to start the overtime and and get us going,” Fred Hoiberg said. “And then defensively I thought we is where we won that game. Offensively, it got a little rough out there for a stretch, but we continued to guard and then Derrick got us going. Derrick was terrific in kind of that nail ISO that we give him and he just makes great plays … Derick, time after time, makes great plays and then to knock those free throws down was huge.”

Announced attendance for the first of three straight home games was 15,385, creating a fantastic atmosphere for the program’s Alumni Weekend. Pinnacle Bank Arena recognized numerous former Huskers during halftime.

“We love the crowd, and they’re a part of us,” Walker said. “When when we got down, they didn’t give up on us. They stayed in the game with us and when you’ve got a crowd like that, it does a lot for the other team because they become messed up. They can’t think, they can’t focus, it gets loud, they don’t know what they’re running. And that helps us out, that boosts us. When you hear that roar, you know you’re doing something good.”

The first half saw some wild runs as Nebraska built up a 15-6 lead early on the back of a 13-2 stretch featuring a personal 6-0 run from Walker. Maryland score 10 in a row to regain the lead as Nebraska went cold for three straight minutes, but the Huskers right the ship and used a strong last two minutes to take a 31-24 lead into the locker room.

Tominaga led everyone with 11 points at the half while Walker had 10 points and three assists. Nebraska outscored Maryland 22-12 in the paint to build its seven-point edge despite shooting just 1-for-7 from 3.

Maryland shot 29% from the field in the first half including 3-for-11 on 3s and turned the ball over seven times to just five for Nebraska.

Nebraska pushed the lead to nine early in the first half before foul trouble reared its head. Griesel and Walker both picked up their third fouls in the first four minutes of the half and Maryland put together and 11-0 run to take a 38-36 lead. Griesel picked up his fourth foul as well at the end of the run while contesting a 3-point attempt. 

The Huskers went nearly five minutes without scoring before Walker earned a trip to the line and hit both shots to tie it up again. Maryland added a pair of 3s while Nebraska’s consecutive-misses-from-the-field streak extended to eight (five 3s and three layups) with a pair of turnovers before Walker drove to the basket for a layup.

Maryland extended the lead out to eight at 50-42 before Walker found Hoiberg at the top of the key for a 3, and Nebraska trimmed the lead all the way down to two with a free throw from Blaise Keita and a pair of freebies from Griesel, making it anyone’s game in the final four minutes.

“We had to take a moment to tell ourselves like, ‘Hey, it’s only eight. We’re fine. Let’s pull our stuff together.’ And we knew we had to do it on the defensive end,” Walker said. “We came out fouling, kind of careless with the ball and just kind of let them get what they want and they took the momentum. So for us, we knew that we had to gain the momentum back and that’s just what we did. We came out and we started playing harder and we started getting stops and started scoring the ball and we just started being tough, and that’s what we preach: being tough.”

Th teams went back and fourth down the stretch with Maryland pulling ahead by five then Nebraska rallying to tie it up with just over a minute to play. Young attacked the baseline for a tough floater to put the Terps back in front, but Walker answered with a bucket in the paint to set up Hoiberg’s stop to send it to overtime.

Both teams shot under 37% from the field in the second half, though the two starting centers in Walker and Julian Reese (who finished with 16 points and 16 rebounds) both went to work with 11 points apiece.

The OT was a single-possession game throughout with both teams making big plays until Hoiberg’s bonus free throws put the Huskers up by five with 14 seconds to play.

Nebraska only made three field goals in overtime, but the Huskers went 5-for-7 at the foul line and forced four Terrapin turnovers to pull out the victory.

Nebraska will get five days to rest, recuperate and prepare for a rematch with Minnesota as the Golden Gophers will visit Pinnacle Bank Arena on Saturday.

“JaMarques [Lawrence] got banged up a little bit,” Fred Hoiberg said. “Blaise, at the end, hopefully he’s going to be OK; we’ve got some time between games, but he re-injured the ankle. So it’s going to be an important stretch for us. We’ll take tomorrow off, get back in there on Tuesday, get a good skill day, watch film and then start putting the game plan in on Wednesday for Minnesota. 

“Our guys deserve to enjoy this, three in a row now and all great wins, coming back from a big deficit against Wisconsin, getting a huge road win in a tough environment and then coming back again tonight. In all three wins, it takes resolve, it takes toughness, mental toughness maybe as much as anything, and I just couldn’t be more proud of this group.”

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