Strong individual efforts by Teddy Allen in the first half and Trey McGowens in the second half weren’t enough to overcome sub-.40% shooting overall as No. 19 Michigan handed Nebraska an 80-69 loss at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Christmas Day.
A strong surge by Michigan (7-0, 2-0 Bg Ten) to start the second half gave the Wolverines too much of a cushion for Nebraska (4-5, 0-2) to overcome down the stretch. Coach Fred Hoiberg said during his post-game radio appearance that he thought the Huskers’ shoddy defense during that stretch cost them the game.
Allen led the Huskers with 25 points, but he shot 9-of-22 from the field including 3-of-10 from 3 as the Huskers relied on him to create something out of nothing late in the clock on several occasions.
Dalano Banton scored 17 points but shot 7-of-16 from the field as a lot of his shots came inside the arc but outside the restricted area. Trey McGowens added 15 points on 4-of-11 shooting (2-of-2 from 3) and 5-of-6 from the line after going scoreless in the first half.
Nobody else scored more than six points as the rest of the team combined for 12 points on 5-of-16 shooting. Nebraska shot 39.1% from the field overall including 35% from 3 and 60% from the free-throw line. The Huskers had a season-low six assists
“Obviously Teddy had it going, we rode him in that first half, but second half when things got tough, we need to have better movement at that time,” Hoiberg said. “That was a big thing that we stressed going into this one that we worked on the last two days in practice. We’ll continue to work on it and hopefully be better with our execution.
“When a guy like Teddy [gets going], it’s great on one hand, but on the other had you get a little stagnant and just kind of stand around and watch when a guy gets it going like that. Then when things shut down and things get a little tough, that’s when the movement has to kick back in.”
For the first time this season, Nebraska allowed a small number of family members into the arena for the game. Bryce McGowens, Hoiberg’s 5-star 2021 signee, was among them to watch his brother Trey play.
“It felt good,” Trey McGowens said. “Obviously we love being around each other as a team, but sometimes you get homesick, especially with the pandemic. We can’t go home. A lot of us haven’t seen our family in three, four months. It felt really good just to see our family and kind of enjoy the holidays a little bit, as much as we can at least.”
Michigan shot 50.8% from the field including 57.7% in the second half. Four starters and the team’s sixth man all scored in double figures led by Franz Wagner’s 20 points. Isaiah Livers scored 11 of his 17 points in the second half.
Allen showed up ready to play, scoring 14 of Nebraska’s first 18 points with a variety of moves both inside and out.
After playing less than 60 seconds against Wisconsin, freshman center Eduardo Andre checked in during the first half and took a charge on his first possession, then split a pair of free throws on the other end to give Nebraska a 19-15 lead.
Despite a strong defensive start by the Huskers, Michigan found a rhythm on offense and tied it up at 19-all. The sides kept trading buckets from there over the next several possessions. Then the dreaded scoring drought reared its ugly head. The Huskers went 3:45 without a point as the Wolverines scored six straight to take a 29-25 lead.
Lat Mayen finally ended the drought with a layup, then Allen scored five straight to put the Huskers back in front 32-29. Michigan made one last push, closing the first half on a 7-2 run to take a 36-34 lead into the break.
Allen led the Huskers with 21 points on 8-of-17 shooting including 2-of-8 from 3. The rest of the team combined for 13 points on 6-of-15 shooting.
Wagner led the Wolverines with 11 points in the first half while Chaundee Brown chipped in nine points off the bench. Hunter Dickinson, Michigan’s 7-foot-1 freshman center and leading scorer, had just four points. The Wolverines shot 43.5% from the field including 4-of-17 from deep.
The Wolverines hit their first six shots including a pair of 3s to open the second half while McGowens provided Nebraska’s only source of offense with a free throw and two tough 3s. Michigan took its largest lead yet at 53-41 before Allen banked in a 3, his first shot attempt of the half.
“We’re playing good teams, so that’s all it takes to put yourself in a hole and once you get down in a hole against teams like Michigan and Wisconsin, it’s extremely hard to kind of dig yourself out,” McGowens said.
The Wolverines maintained their lead as a put-back by Brown gave Michigan a 62-49 lead with just over 11 minutes to play. After the blazing start to the half, Nebraska picked it up defensively and forced the Wolverines into a three-minute scoring drought.
The Huskers missed their first 10 2-point attempts before Banton knocked down a tough fade-away jumper to get the lid off the rim. On the next possession, he found Trevor Lakes for a 3, then McGowens got a steal and breakaway slam to cut the deficit to six.
After a bucket by Michigan, Nebraska got a put-back by Yvan Ouedraogo — starting for the second straight game — and a pair of free throws by McGowens to cut it to a four-point game with just over six minutes to go.
Michigan answered with a corner 3 from Mike Smith, however, and Nebraska got no closer than five points the rest of the way. After a bucket by Banton with 4:38 to play, Nebraska went ice cold. The Huskers missed five straight field goals and 3-of-4 at the free-throw line before a Banton put-back with 51 seconds to play. Michigan sealed the win at the foul line.
“Down the stretch, I put that on me,” Hoiberg said. “I’ve got to get us better looks, I’ve got to get us more opportunities, better execution. We had a couple plays that we didn’t execute the right way that we have to get better at. I put that on me, the last four minutes of the game that we didn’t get very good shots. Unfortunately we missed a couple at the rim and we missed a couple shots as well that hopefully we’ll make when we take the floor against Ohio State.”
Dickinson scored nine points in the second half to finished with a 13-point, 15-rebound double-double as the Huskers’ second-half woes continued.
“Gotta give them credit, they came out with better energy to start the second half,” Hoiberg said. “I am proud of he guys for not folding and getting right back into the game and giving ourselves a chance. It’s going to take us getting over the hump and hopefully getting some confidence to see what it takes to win these games. We’re capable; we’re more than capable.
“You don’t want to be labeled a first-half team and say, ‘Oh, we were close.’ You can’t be a ‘Here we go again’ at the under-seven-minute media timeout to where you have a close ball game that’s all of a sudden opened up. We just have to continue to stress the importance of every single possession. You never know which one is going to be the one that determines the outcome. A lot of these games are going to be close.”
The road doesn’t get any easier for Nebraska as the Huskers will head to No. 23 Ohio State for a Tuesday game. Tipoff is set for 5:30 p.m. on Big Ten Network.
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.