Free throws have been one of Nebraska’s many Achilles heels this season, but the Huskers made them when they counted most on Saturday as Nebraska knocked off Minnesota 78-74 on Senior Night at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
The three players Nebraska honored before the game—seniors Thorir Thorbjarnarson and Kobe Webster and junior Derrick Walker—combined to score Nebraska’s final 12 points and all three scored in double figures to lead the Huskers to their second Big Ten win of the season and first home win since Dec. 17 against Doane.
“We just wanted to win,” Walker said. “When it was crunch time, we wanted to win. We knew that we could win, we knew going into this game that we could win. For us, it’s been a long season and we just knew we were going to come out and play hard, do what we could to just win. That was all that was on our mind, just winning. We played hard, we executed, we did what we were supposed to do.”
In total, six different Huskers cracked the 10-point mark led by Dalano Banton with 14 points, seven rebounds and two assists. Trey McGowens added an efficient 11 points, five assists, four rebounds and two steals. Walker just missed a double-double with 12 points, nine rebounds, three blocks and two assists. Fred Hoiberg said he expects Walker to return next season, but he wanted to give the Kansas City native a chance to celebrate his graduation with family.
Webster and Thorbjarnarson scored 10 points each, shooting 6-of-10 from the field including 3-of-5 from 3 and 5-of-6 from the foul line with all of those free throws coming in the final 30 seconds. Nebraska (6-17, 2-14 Big Ten) shot 54.5% from the field and 52.9% from 3. Teddy Allen played just 10 minutes and did not score as Hoiberg rode the hot hands.
“I thought Trey played maybe one of his most efficient games of the year,” Hoiberg said. “It was great to see the balance of five guys in double-figures, almost six with Lat [Mayen] with nine and Eduardo [Andre] with seven. We just went out there and played the right way tonight and had 19 assists.
“Too many turnovers, no doubt about it, but I think only six in the second half so we did a better job. Offensive rebounds we did a better job as well in the second half. If we can clean those two things up, I just told our guys instead of batting in a one- or two-possession game, we’d be up double figure if we just take away those careless ones.”
The Huskers gave the ball away 18 times leading to 24 Gopher points, but the Huskers limited Minnesota (13-12, 6-12) to 34.3% shooting and just nine second-chance points despite surrendering 16 offensive rebounds.
Minnesota point guard Marcus Carr went off for 41 points—tying Allen’s single-game arena scoring record—on 11-of-27 from the field (6-of-15 from 3) and 13-of-16 from the charity stripe, but Minnesota’s second-leading scorer managed just 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting. Liam Robbins, the team’s 7-foot center, did not play and neither did starting guard Gabe Kalscheur as both were sidelined by injury.
Carr got off to a really hot start before McGowens buckled down and Nebraska made some schematic adjustments, and they kept him in check into the second half before he took over again down the stretch.
“It’s not very often you say a guy did a hell of a job when the guy he’s guarding scores 41, but I thought a lot of those were early — well, 20 of them were in the first 12 minutes of the game,” Hoiberg said. “Then we made the adjustment … We were going to try to make other guys make plays. He made some big ones down the stretch, a couple 3s, got to the free-throw line. But I really thought Trey battled him and I thought the attentiveness of our guys to make that adjustment and go out there just to slow him down enough to get the win was a huge part of it. The kid’s an unbelievable, an absolutely phenomenal player that scores at all three levels. He had it going, we made the adjustment and our guys executed — and he still had 41.”
Nebraska hit four of its first five shots and jumped out to a 12-8 lead early, but the Huskers also turned the ball over five times during that stretch, a theme that would continue throughout the first half.
Minnesota briefly took the lead, but Nebraska answered with back-to-back transition dunks from Andre on great feeds from Banton and Allen and a pair of free throws by Shamiel Stevenson.
Then Carr took over, scoring at will. He hit a 3 then stole the ball and passed ahead to Jamal Mashburn Jr. for a layup to give the Gophers a 27-26 lead. At that point, he had scored 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting (5-of-6 from 3) and had assisted two of Minnesota’s other four field goals.
The Gophers went ice cold from that point, however, despite dominating the number of possessions thanks to offensive rebounds and turnovers. Minnesota missed 16 of its final 17 shots and had a scoring drought that eclipsed the five-minute mark.
McGowens gave the Huskers the lead with a 3 than added a layup, but Minnesota finally snapped out of its drought with a put-back slam by Brandon Johnson, and Carr tied the game at the free-throw line.
Nebraska ran the clock down and got the ball to Walker at the high post, and he found Banton cutting to the rim for a reverse layup to give the Huskers a 33-31 lead at halftime.
Nebraska misfired on six of its last eight shots, missing an opportunity to pull away, but the Huskers still shot 54.2% from the field including 4-of-8 from 3. However, they also turned the ball over 13 times.
Carr missed his last seven shots to finish with 20 points in the half as Minnesota shot 28.2% from the field. The Gophers grabbed 12 offensive rebounds but only converted them into five second-chance points.
Walker and Webster put the Huskers on their backs early as Nebraska opened up nine-point lead with a 11-4 start. Webster had two jumpers including a 3 and Walker had three buckets including a monster slam.
Minnesota made a push, but the Huskers stretched the lead back to nine with a 3 from Mayen and a second-chance hook shot from Andre.
The officials used a review to assess a flagrant foul to Mayen, his fourth foul (he picked up three in the span of 18 seconds early in the second half), and the Gophers went 3-of-4 at the line then finished the sequence with a dunk to make it a four-point game.
Then Banton took over as Nebraska ripped off a 9-2 run to take its largest lead of the game at 64-51. Banton had seven of those points and Stevenson capped the run with a 3. The teams went back and forth a few times as a corner 3 from Thorbjarnarson pushed the lead back to 13 with 7:23 to play.
The dreaded scoring drought reared its ugly head again at that point, however, as Nebraska went over five minutes without a point, missing six straight shots. Carr orchestrated a 10-0 run to make it a 69-66 game before Thorbjarnarson found Walker for a layup to end the streak of misses. Carr hit two free throws, but Thorbjarnarson set up Walker again for another bucket that made it 73-68 with 1:38 remaining.
“We had to get a bucket, and Thor’s a great passer,” Walker said. “Credit to Thor, he found me and all I had to do was finish. Towards the end, Thor and I have good chemistry. I love playing with Thor, he’s a great player. I’m very thankful to have him.”
Carr did all he could down the stretch to give the Gophers a chance, and it got pretty dicey for Nebraska as McGowens missed the front end of the bonus twice and Carr cut the deficit to two with a three-point play with 31 seconds remaining.
Nebraska seniors stepped up in the final 30 seconds and closed the door on the comeback attempt with some free throws. Thorbjarnarson split a pair, Webster knocked down a couple and then Thorbjarnarson stepped up to the line with four seconds left and Nebraska up by two. He buried them both to seal the game.
Nebraska cut its turnovers down to six in the second half and shot 54.8% from the field including 5-of-9 from 3. Carr scored Minnesota’s final 13 points and 19 of its last 23, but it wasn’t enough.
Nebraska will close out the 2020–21 home schedule on Monday against Rutgers. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. on Big Ten Network.