Nebraska, playing without its leading scorer in Teddy Allen, failed to muster enough offense to keep up with Minnesota in a 79-61 loss on Monday despite the Gophers’ top two scorers each playing less than 20 minutes.
Allen (17.2 points per game) did not play because of a “failure to meet internal expectations,” according to the Big Ten Network telecast. Coach Fred Hoiberg said it was a “coach’s decision” after the game.
The Huskers dug a big hole early and ran out of gas late as they fell to 0-7 in Big Ten play and 4-10 overall. Nebraska shot 36.8% from the field including 3-of-15 from 3 and 64% from the free-throw line. Nebraska also turned the ball over 18 times as the Huskers scored a paltry 0.813 points per possession.
“We have to take care of the ball,” Hoiberg said. “We’re just driving into a pile. Every day in practice I do about five simple-play drills where we drive it in, converge on the ball, jump-stop, reverse pivot, pass the ball with two hands, catch the ball with two hands, drive the next one, come to a jump-stop, draw the defense, make the play. But we’re just driving that thing into a pile right now and it’s beyond frustrating because when we move it, we’re pretty damn good. When we trust it and the guys have that level of trust out there, we’re pretty damn good.”
Minnesota’s top two scorers, point guard Marcus Carr and center Liam Robbins, played just 19 and 14 minutes respectively because of foul trouble, but Carr still put up 21 points and eight assists while three other Golden Gophers cracked double figures. Minnesota wasn’t much better than Nebraska at 37.5% from the field and 22.2% from deep, but they made five more 3-pointers and committed seven fewer turnovers.
Lat Mayen came alive in the second half to lead the Husker with a career-high 15 points, shooting 5-of-9 from the field, 3-of-6 from 3 and 2-of-2 from the free-throw line and grabbing six rebounds.
For the second straight game, Shamiel Stevenson gave the Huskers a spark off the bench on both ends of the floor finishing with 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting, six rebounds, two blocks and a steal, but he also turned the ball over five times.
“Shamiel’s giving us phenomenal minutes,” Hoiberg said. “He’s giving us great energy, he’s got power out there, he’s a versatile defender. When he drives it with a straight line, he’s very effective. Where Shamiel gets in trouble, like all of our guys, is where he tries to reverse spin dribble into a crowd when somebody’s sitting right there at the elbow as opposed to coming in, jump-stopping and making a simple play and then the next guy makes the play. He’s a guy that wasn’t shut down, and it’s showing.”
Hoiberg started Trevor Lakes, who did not play against Michigan State on Saturday, in Allen’s place, but that lineup struggled defensively and Lakes didn’t get off any looks from the perimeter as he played just six minutes.
The Huskers got some good luck early as Robbins picked up his second full just 2:20 into the game, but the Golden Gophers got into a rhythm without their second-leading scorer and converted seven straight field goals early on, racing out to a 23-10 lead.
Derrick Walker scored four straight for Nebraska to cut it back down to nine, but the Gophers extended the lead to 16 with a 7-0 run.
Nebraska pulled to within 11 a couple of times, but Minnesota maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the half despite both Robbins and Minnesota’s leading scorer and point guard, Marcus Carr, picking up their third foul.
The Gophers pushed the lead to as much as 17 before taking a 45-30 lead into halftime. Nebraska shot 33.3% from the field including 0-of-8 from deep and turned the ball over 10 times. Shamiel Stevenson provided a spark off the bench with 10 points, six rebounds, a block and a steal, but he also turned the ball over three times with shot 3-of-7 from the field.
Brandon Johnson led the Gophers with 10 points including 2-of-2 from deep after going 0-for-10 from 3 in his last eight games. However, the Gophers shot just 5-of-18 from the perimeter in the first half.
Robbins and Walker both picked up their fourth foul in the first three minutes of the second half and Minnesota pushed the lead to 19 at 51-32. Then the Gophers went ice cold.
Hoiberg sent freshman Eduardo Andre in to replace Yvan Ouedraogo after the sophomore failed to finish an open layup, and Andre provided a nice spark after not playing against Michigan State on Saturday.
Andre found Stevenson on a backdoor cut for a layup, sparking a 13-1 Husker run during which Minnesota missed 17 straight shot attempts. Carr picked up his fourth foul and took a set shortly after Stevenson’s layup and the Gophers looked lost offensively without him.
“Eduardo was phenomenal tonight,” Hoiberg said. “I thought he gave us terrific minutes and made some really good plays to loosen up their pressure on some back-cuts and played really hard and had a great block and protected the rim. That’s something moving forward where it’s going to be a decision to get him some more minutes.”
After playing just four minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, Mayen came alive, hitting three 3s and a pair of free throws as the Huskers pulled within seven again at 59-52 with 6:46 to go.
“We started moving the ball,” Mayen said. “We made them play defense, made them kind of a little confused and we were able to find the open people. So we started moving the ball a lot. We’ve just got to stick to that and try to do that for 40 minutes instead of little stretches.”
Carr returned, however, and Minnesota righted the ship with a 18-5 run to push the lead to 20. Kobe Webster converted a layup with 10 seconds remaining to snap a nearly four-minute drought from the field and create the final margin. Nebraska shot 1-of-2 from the field and 3-of-7 from the line with three turnovers in the final four minutes while the Gophers got three layups and shot 5-of-6 from the foul line.
“I was proud of the effort, fighting back,” Hoiberg said. “Unfortunately when we do turn it on and fight back, we’re generally down double digits. I’d love to see that thing even or have a couple-point lead to where we can push it up and take a double-digit lead because we’re certainly showing we’re capable of doing it. But I thought early they were too comfortable. They got off to an unbelievable start, made shots, but I thought a lot of that had to do with our grit just wasn’t there. It wasn’t the same as it was, I thought, for 40 minutes against Michigan State. We really guarded them.
“Second half, we were really good on that end. They shot 30%, they missed 17 shots in a row at one point, but it was too late.”
The Huskers will be required by Big Ten rules to use Tuesday as an off-day, so the next time the team will gather together on the court will be the shoot around ahead of Wednesday’s home game against No. 21 Wisconsin. As for Allen, his status is to be determined.
“We’ll move past it, we’ll reevaluate everything again tomorrow when we get back to Lincoln and meet as a staff and put our prep together about how we’re going to move forward against Wisconsin,” Hoiberg said.
Tipoff against the Badgers is set for 8:30 p.m. on Big Ten Network.