Despite a nightmarish start to the game, Nebraska gave itself a chance to knock off a top-20 opponent and snap its three-game losing skid on Sunday afternoon.
With the game tied at 53-all and 40 seconds to play, No. 18 Indiana ran Grace Berger off a double-screen at the top of the key. Nebraska center Kate Cain showed on Berger initially and she hesitated before turning the corner, and as Cain tried to recover she cut off Leigh Brown’s path to get back in front of Berger. The help defender got lost on the back side and Berger scored on an easy reverse layup with 33.3 seconds remaining.
On the other end, Indiana shut down Nebraska’s initial action and forced freshman Isabelle Bourne to kick it out to Nicea Eliely with 19 seconds left on the shot clock. Eliely used a hesitation to get by her defender but put her head down and ran over the rotating help defender for an easy charge call with 19.3 to play.
Indiana got the ball in and Jaelynn Penn hit two free throws to seal the 57-53 victory at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“Obviously we want to be able to execute a little bit better … Nicea got called for a charge and it was kind of a broken play,” Coach Amy Williams said. “She was trying to make something happen. There were a few possessions there that we could have executed better down the stretch.”
Third quarters have been a problem for the Huskers this season, particularly during the team’s recent struggles, but on Sunday the first quarter was the issue. Indiana (19-6, 9-4 Big Ten) opened the game on a 12-0 run and outscored the Huskers 26-6 in the first quarter overall. Indiana shot 10-of-18 from the field while the Huskers (15-9, 5-8) made just two field goals on 17 attempts and turned the ball over four times.
“It’s just a real tough loss on our home court,” Williams said. “Once again, we’re struggling to put together four solid quarters. Today it was the first quarter that kind of got us. I thought they came out and really played fast and transition and kind of punched us in the mouth and we didn’t do a great job of handling their quick transition. They got some easy baskets and we didn’t respond.”
Indiana stretched the lead out to 25 midway through the second quarter before a pair of freshmen gave the Huskers a spark off the bench. A 10-0 Nebraska run included a 3 and a pull-up 2 by Trinity Brady and a three-point play by Makenzie Helms and cut the deficit down to 15.
Helms, who did not make the trip to Iowa on Thursday because of an illness, finished with three points and three assists — both career highs — in seven minutes. Nebraska’s other freshman, Isabelle Bourne, added seven points, seven rebounds, three blocks and a steal.
“We had some great contributions and a little punch from our bench,” Williams said. “Makenzie Helms came in and, I thought, played well. Trinity Brady gave us a little spark. Kayla Mershon was really good defensively and did some great things for us. To have our bench come in and find ways to contribute was good to see.”
Indiana led 41-23 at halftime and the Hoosiers pushed the lead back to 19 three minutes into the half, but the Huskers locked in from there on the defensive end. A jumper from Ali Patberg gave the Hoosiers a 50-33 lead with 4:09 to play in the third quarter. It was Indiana’s only field goal until Berger’s go-ahead layup in the final minute.
“I think we really just picked it up,” Cain said about the turnaround. “We came out, obviously, extremely slow. Transition defense was definitely an issue. But then, even in the second quarter where we did outscore them, we scratched and clawed our way back into it and we just really put our minds to getting back into that game.”
The Huskers held the Hoosiers without a made field goal for just over 13:30 of game time. Indiana scored just three points, all at the free-throw line, during that time. Nebraska used a 20-3 run to tie the game at 53-all before the final minute.
“It was really good,” Bourne said. “It was awesome to see what we are actually capable of as a team. Our defense, when we lock down and have five people playing defense, we can be really unstoppable. It’s really good to see that. Hopefully we can just put four quarters together of that defense.”
Cain was the only Husker in double figures, finishing with 12 points on 6-of-10 shooting, five blocks and four rebounds. The Huskers shot 36.1% from the field for the game including 5-of-18 from 3. Despite the hot first quarter, Indiana shot even worse at 30.4% and 4-of-15 from 3, but the Hoosiers outscored the Huskers 11-4 at the free-throw line.
Nebraska will return to the court on Thursday to out Penn State. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. CT on BTN+.
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.