Fred Hoiberg said on Friday that he felt good about his team’s shooting and was confident the shots would start falling sooner or later.
Turns out it was sooner as Nebraska shot a season-high 39.1% from deep against South Dakota behind a breakout game from junior college transfer Keisei Tominaga.
The sharp-shooter from Japan had made just four of his first 19 3-point attempts as a Husker heading into Saturday afternoon’s tilt, but it took him just 22 minutes to eclipse that total against the Coyotes.
Tominaga finished with a game-high 23 points in an 83-70 win over the ‘Yotes at Pinnacle Bank Arena. He shot 8-of-11 from the field, 5-of-6 from 3 and 2-of-2 from the free-throw line while adding two assists and two steals. Tominaga admitted he was a little nervous as he made the adjustment to the Division I level and was letting the nerves impact his shot a bit.
“He’s just a guy that puts so much time and effort and work into it.,” Hoiberg said. “I shot with him a little bit yesterday. I haven’t said much to him just because of how good a shooter he is, but sometimes human nature as a shooter when you’re missing is to try to get closer to the rim and just try to guide it in. I think we’ve got a couple guys that were doing that. So I was just really trying to get them back out and shoot with confidence and trust the stroke. It’s a thing of beauty, it’s what’s gotten him to this point and it was just a matter of time before he took the lid off. Perfect timing for us; it was great to see him get going like he did.”
Five-star freshman Bryce McGowens continues to expand his game and put forth a pretty complete performance against on Saturday with 22 points on 6-of-12 from the field (2-of-5 from 3) and 8-of-10 from the foul line, nine rebounds and four assists.
Bryce McGowens has 15 assists in the four game since his brother, Trey, went down with a broken foot. Hoiberg said he planned to put the younger McGowens in more situations to be a playmaker and he’s started to settle into that role.
“Having everybody else around me that can make shots — everybody can do a lot on this team, so I feel comfortable knowing that the next player is going to make a play out of the play I made,” McGowens said. “So I’m comfortable.”
Derrick Walker recorded his fourth straight double-digit scoring game with 13 points on 6-of-7 from the field and 1-of-1 from the line.
The Huskers shot 45.9% from the field and 69.2% (18-of-26) from the free-throw line. Nebraska out-scored South Dakota 36 to 26 in the paint and converted 18 turnovers into 24 points on the other end.
The Huskers mostly kept the Coyotes — who led the nation in free throw makes and attempts through their first five games — off the line as they shot just 8-of-16, but South Dakota also went 12-for-25 from deep.
“I thought we got better [defensively] as the game went on,” Hoiberg said. “I thought we had a really good stretch there where we ran them off the line, had much better urgency on our close outs. Still not good enough early in the game, obviously. Five and 11 really had it going for them. We switched our coverage on 34; I think he was 4-for-13 going into this game and the switching neutralized his shot. We still need to do a better job running guys off, especially the guys that have the bounce that we talked about. But as the game went on, I was much happier with with how we defended.”
Nebraska jumped out to an 11-3 lead behind seven early points from McGowens as the Coyotes started 1-of-5 from the field with two turnovers.
Nebraska slowed down and South Dakota got hot from there, however, as the Coyotes ripped off a 13-0 run to take the lead. The Huskers missed seven straight shots before McGowens ended the drought with an and-one dunk on a back-cut.
South Dakota continued to rain 3s, hitting five of its first eight attempts from deep to take a 21-16 lead. Webster scored four straight including a tough three-point play to bring the Huskers within one, but South Dakota answered with five straight to take its largest led at 26-20.
Then Tominaga took over, knocking down three 3s during a 14-3 Nebraska run that also included an Eduardo Andre dunk and a Verge three-point play.
South Dakota scored five straight to pull within one, but the Huskers held the Coyotes without a field goal for the last 4:28, closing the half on a 9-2 run that Tominaga orchestrated himself. He scored a layup on a cut to the rim, then hit a pair of bonus free throws, then set up Walker on back-to-back possessions including an and-one dunk.
Nebraska lead South Dakota 43-35 at the break behind Tominaga’s career-high 13 points on 4-of-5 from the field, 3-of-4 from 3 and 2-of-2 from the line. McGowens added 10 points on 2-of-4 shooting (1-of-1 from deep) and 5-of-6 foul shooting.
The Coyotes converted five offensive rebounds into 10 second-chance points and shot 6-of-13 from 3 in the first half as leading scorer Cruz Perrott-Hunt hit his season average with 14 points.
Nebraska held South Dakota to 2-of-8 shooting out of the locker room and extended its lead to 14 at 52-38 after a driving dunk from McGowens. The Coyotes rediscovered their shooting touch, hitting three straight 3s during a 5-for-7 stretch from the field to cut the deficit to six at 57-51.
It was all Nebraska the rest of the way, however, as Tominaga once again provided a spark. South Dakota answered a Tominaga layup with a tough bucket from Perrott-Hunt, but Wilcher knocked down a 3 from the top of the key then Tominaga stole the in-bounds pass for another layup.
“That really was a huge momentum builder for us because I think they just cut it to seven,” Hoiberg said. “We hit a 3, Keisei gets the steal to push that thing back up to 12 and force them to call timeout. So I just thought that was a huge play for us. I don’t even think anybody saw it; the announcer didn’t say Keisei, and it took a little while. Really heady play by Keisei.”
That sparked a 15-0 run as the Huskers blew the game wide open, pulling ahead 75-53.
Tominaga’s fifth 3 of the game pushed the lead to 23 and the Huskers cruised to the finish from there.
The Coyotes shot 6-of-12 from 3 in the second half but the Huskers held them to 7-of-20 inside the arc. Perrott-Hunt only scored five points in the second half.
After seven straight home games to open the season, the Huskers will hit the road for the first time next week as the Huskers head east to take on North Carolina State in Raleigh on Wednesday. McGowens said the Huskers are ready for the step up in competition with five straight games against high-major teams.
“It starts in practice, just being able to bring energy every day,” McGowens said. “We know everything isn’t going to be sugar coming in, playing big-time games, big-time teams, big-time players. So really, we just have to stay together as a team and turn it up a notch.”
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.