Jamarques Lawrence’s freshman season at Nebraska was a tale of two parts.
Over the first few months of the season, the 6-foot-3 shooting guard from New Jersey was simply trying to carve out a role. With veteran guards ahead of him, Lawrence came off the bench in each of his first 16 games with four DNPs.
As a reserve, he averaged 2.0 points in 10.4 minutes per game, shooting 35.3% from the field including 33.3% from 3-point range. He had eight games where he didn’t score at all, and he only cracked double-digit minutes in eight of them. His high mark was nine points in the loss to Kansas State in Kansas City.
However, when Emmanuel Bandoumel suffered a season-ending injury against Penn State on Jan. 21 — which followed a season-ending injury for Juwan Gary three games prior — Fred Hoiberg’s options were limited. He gave the freshman a chance, and Lawrence made the most of it.
Lawrence shot 4-of-8 from 3 and finished with 12 points and three assists in his first start, a loss to Northwestern. He remained in the starting lineup the rest of the season, averaging 9.0 points in 28.3 minutes per game, shooting 42.7% from the field including 38.6% from 3 on nearly five attempts per game. He scored 10 or more in seven of his 12 starts including his last four, sending him into the offseason on a high note and building some momentum for his sophomore year.
“I feel very confident going into this year,” Lawrence said. “I think I needed that, just getting thrown in the fire. I made a lot of rookie mistakes throughout the games and stuff like that. So I think just me looking back on my film and stuff is going to help me a lot.”
One of those double-digit games was a 15-point performance against Michigan State on Feb. 28. Known more for his perimeter jumper, Lawrence did most of his damage inside the arc against the Spartans, shooting 6-of-6 on 2-pointers and eliciting some praise from Hall of Fame coach Tom Izzo.
“The Lawrence kid is going to be a hell of a player,” Izzo said. “We couldn’t guard him.”
Lawrence didn’t hear the compliment at the time, but he called it confirmation that he belongs at the Big Ten level — “Shoutout Coach Izzo for sure.”
Junior guard C.J. Wilcher said he wasn’t surprised by Lawrence’s success down the stretch of the season.
“I was telling people from this time last year that he was going to play and make an impact because this is what he does,” Wilcher said. “He scores a ball, he shoots the ball well. I’ve been here so I know what kind of works in our system.”
Lawrence said he doesn’t expect his role to change too dramatically, but he’s hoping to produce even more within that role this season. That’s what this offseason is all about.
“I think one of the biggest things for me is my diet, just eating right, staying in great shape,” Lawrence said. “Just keeping keeping the same skills, maintaining them consistently. Shooting. I’m really working on my ball-handling a lot this year; there’s a chance I might play a little bit of one this year, so ball-handling is the main thing for me.”
Lawrence hasn’t played much point guard throughout his basketball career, but he said the key is being confident going in.
Nebraska lost a lot of production from last season, and Fred Hoiberg turned to the transfer portal to replace it. The Huskers welcomed five newcomers to the team this offseason, four of which came from other Division I programs. Lawrence said the transfers have fit in well with the newcomers, and as a ball-handling guard he’s particularly excited about playing with Bradley transfer Rienk Mast and his ability to space the floor from the five spot.
“I feel like we’re a better shooting team than last year with Rienk and stuff,” Lawrence said. “I’m very excited to play with him, a shooting big that can space the floor. That’s really what we need, I’m excited for that. And everybody else that can shoot.”
Lawrence showed plenty of promise last season once he slid into a regular rotation role, and his growth is a reason for excitement heading into 2023-24.