It took an extra five minutes, but Nebraska took care of business on the road on Saturday, outlasting Minnesota 81-79 in overtime at The Barn for the program’s first road overtime victory since Feb. 17, 2001.
.Nebraska (9-7, 2-3 Big Ten) bounced back from its worst free-throw shooting performance of the season to post its second-best, shooting 76.2% (16-of-21) at the stripe to cancel out Minnesota’s 15-point edge from the 3-point line and extend its winning streak in the series to four.
To address the team’s free-throw woes (340th in the country in percentage heading into Saturday), Hoiberg took his team to Nebraska’s sports performance lab this week to get some feedback about the mechanics of their shooting routines, and it appears to have made a difference.
“As much as anything, it’s mental,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said during his post-game radio interview. “If you could give them something in their brain to say ‘OK, this might do it,’ where it fixes it as opposed to doing nothing and keep going on the same path I think has as much to do with it as anything.”
Nebraska’s senior leaders stepped up with stat-sheet-stuffing performances from both Derrick Walker and Sam Griesel to lead the Huskers to victory.
Walker finished with a game-high 22 points, eight rebounds and a career-high seven assists. Griesel added 17 points, six rebounds and five assists while playing 39 minutes without a turnover. Griesel hit all six of his free throws while Walker went 4-for-6 at the line.
Juwan Gary also poured in 18 points including a pair of pivotal put-backs, shooting 7-of-11 from the field and grabbing six rebounds.
Nebraska shot 50.8% from the field including 33.3% from 3 with 18 assists and just 11 turnovers. The Huskers earned a 48-34 edge in the paint and were plus-nine at the foul line.
“We had much better movement today the first half,” Hoiberg said. “I thought the second half we were pretty good the other night at Michigan State, but obviously we dug ourselves too big a hole. A big emphasis today was get the thing moving and get the defense shifted side to side. I thought we bailed them out a little bit the other night by keeping the ball in the middle without an extra pass and then they were able to sit in at the elbows and really plug gaps. Today we created a lot of those seams, especially for Derrick, by movement and cutting and when you cut, Derrick is going to find you.”
Jamison Battle led Minnesota (6-8, 0-4) with 20 points while Dawson Garcia added 19 points and 15 rebounds, but the Huskers forced them to take 36 shots and six free throws to score their 39 points.
After feeling each other out early with a handful of lead changes, Minnesota took the first big shot with a 10-2 run, moving the ball well against Nebraska’s double-teams inside the arc. The Gophers went 7-for-8 from the field during the stretch to build a 22-15 lead.
Keisei Tominaga provided a spark off the bench with a layup on a cut, a deep 3 and an assist to Wilhelm Breidenbach to pull the Huskers within two. Ta’Lon Cooper scored to push it back to four, but the Huskers hit the Gophers with a 9-0 run (five points from Breidenbach, four from Walker) to take a 31-26 lead with five minutes to play in the half.
The offense dried up from there, however. Cooper dropped in a finger roll to end Minnesota’s drought then the Gophers hit three straight 3s for an 11-0 run. Walker finally got Nebraska back on the board with a follow-up of his own miss, but Battle tracked down a long rebound on the other end and banked in a short jumper to give Minnesota a 39-33 lead at halftime.
Nebraska missed five of its last six shots with a pair of turnovers, going four and a half minutes without scoring to allow Minnesota to create some separation.
Even with the late cold spell, Nebraska shot 51.9% from the field, scored 20 points in the paint and got 12 points off its bench. Gary paced the team with nine first-half points while Walker chipped in eight.
Garcia and Battle, the top two players on the scouting report, combined for 25 points. As a team, Minnesota shot 50% from the field including 6-of-12 from 3.
Walker went to work early in the second half, scoring inside, drawing fouls and finding teammates. He drew three fouls on one possession — including the second and third on Garcia — before eventually scoring to make it a three-point game.
Freshman Pharrell Payne responded with a physical bucket, but Griesel found Gary for a three-point play, sparking a 12-0 Husker run to take a 54-47 lead seven minutes into the half.
“We didn’t get off to a great start, dug a little hole, but I was proud of how the guys handled the adversity and they were resilient,” Hoiberg said. “I thought we got back into the game with great hand activity and ball pressure and created some deflections and then we got a little lead and they ended the half on a big run. But the second half was was terrific. The guys, I thought, all game long really moved and shared it and again got it to Derrick with room to operate and he just made play after play.”
Minnesota didn’t go away, however, countering Nebraska’s run with a 14-4 stretch of its own to take a 61-58 lead.
Nebraska’s seniors stepped up from there as Griesel pulled up from deep to tie the game then stole the ball a couple possessions later, setting up a go-ahead bucket from Walker. The veteran big man scored again after another Minnesota turnover to put the Huskers up by four with just under four minutes to play.
Four straight empty possessions followed, chewing up two minutes of game time before Battle got loose for a 3-pointer to make it a one-point game. The Huskers went back to Walker but the Gophers were ready for him, forcing a miss. Gary flew in for a tip-slam, however, putting the Huskers up 67-64 with just under a minute to play.
Walker stopped Garcia in the post on defense but turned it back over with an offensive foul. Out of a timeout, the Gophers looked to get something going with a couple of pick and-rolls up top before swinging it to Cooper who drove the baseline. The Huskers helped off the weak side instead of staying home on shooters, opening up the skip and the extra pass to the corner for a 3 from Taurus Samuels to tie the game up with 4.8 to play.
After a timeout, Nebraska got the ball to Griesel and he pulled up for a deep 3 with a couple seconds still to go, perhaps losing track of time as Wilcher was wide open in the corner. The shot didn’t fall, sending the game to overtime.
Nebraska shot 50% from the field including 3-of-5 from deep in the second half and outscored Minnesota 6-0 at the foul line. Minnesota was 0-for-9 from 3 in the half before hitting its last two triples to send the game to overtime.
Minnesota struck first in overtime before Nebraska scored five straight to take the lead. Garcia hit a pair of fire throws on offense but tried to draw a foul on Walker on the other end, committing his fifth instead and sending Walker to the line where he buried both shots.
Without Garcia, Minnesota went to Battle and he took advantage of a breakdown in communication to hit an open 3, tying it up again at 74-74 with just over a minute to play. The Huskers went back to Walker and he came up short again, but once again Gary flew in from the weak side to tip the miss back up and in.
Battle turned the ball over with a bad pass and the Huskers went 5-for-6 from the foul line in the final 30 seconds to seal the victory. Minnesota hit two shots in the last five seconds including a 3 at the buzzer to make the final margin look a bit closer, but the Huskers escaped with their first conference road win.
“I’m really proud of the guys for how they handled it, especially the 3 they hit at the end of regulation,” Hoiberg said. “The guys came over, they were composed and they never panicked. We came out and kept getting the ball to the right guy, which was Derrick tonight.”
Nebraska went 8-for-11 from the charity stripe overall in the overtime period after shooting 8-for-20 in the full 40 minutes against Michigan State last time out.
“It’s hard when you play two in a row on the road like we did and you get it handed to you in the opening of that two-game stretch,” Hoiberg said. “So to come back and get this one is huge for our guys. We’ve got a short turnaround. We’ve got a tough week ahead obviously with Illinois with only a two-day prep and then you have a two-day prep and you’re at Purdue.”
Nebraska will return home after the two-game road stand to take on Illinois at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Tuesday.
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.