Bluejays bury NU 98-74 with second-half avalanche
For 20 minutes, Nebraska looked as if it was going to have a chance to finally flip a 20-year script and pull off an upset of in-state rival Creighton in Omaha.
Then the second half happened, and those hopes immediately crumbled, leaving nothing but the same old storyline for the Huskers in a 98-74 blowout defeat.
After only trailing by four at halftime, NU was no match for the Bluejays in any facet the rest of the night. Creighton ended up shooting a blistering 60.5 percent from the field and 7-for-14 on 3-pointers and used a 30-8 run to turn a close game into a laugher in the second half.
Marcus Zegarowski led the way for CU with 22 points and Denzel Mahoney finished with 20, as five Jays scored in double-figures to give Creighton its most points ever against Nebraska in 54 all-time meetings.
The most glaring difference in the game was the Huskers’ season-high 25 turnovers that turned into 38 Bluejay points. That marked the most turnovers NU has committed in a game since 27 against Ohio State in 2012.
In many ways, the game started in typical Nebraska-Creighton fashion: the Bluejays knocked down four of their first five 3-pointers, and a 9-0 run by Zegarowski had CU up 15-8 out of the gates.
But even after turning the ball over 12 times and going 11-of-17 from the free-throw line in the first half, the Huskers managed to stay within reach despite trailing by as much as seven twice before the break.
Five straight points by Dalano Banton in the final 51 seconds left NU going into halftime with a manageable 44-40 deficit. That marked just the third time in the past 18 meetings that Nebraska has eclipsed 30 first-half points against Creighton.
The Bluejays came out firing again to open the second half, and a quick 7-0 run to go back up 55-46 after just four minutes of play.
It only got worse for NU from there, as Creighton went on to make 14 of its first 19 shots – including 5-of-7 3-pointers – to start the second half and went on a 23-2 run to take a 78-53 lead.
The Bluejays scored those 23 points in just five minutes, and the run eventually reached 30-8, painfully resembling previous monster Bluejay rallies of years past.
Teddy Allen posted season highs with 26 points and nine rebounds, while Trey McGowens added 15 points, and Banton finished with 12 points and seven boards but had a season-low one assist.
Zegarowski and Mahoney combined to shoot 13-for-30 from the field and 9-of-17 from behind the arc, while the Bluejays assisted on 24 of their 38 made baskets. On the other hand, Nebraska shot just 59.1 percent (13-of-22) from the free-throw line and only had 12 assists on 25 makes.
The Huskers will get a 10-day break before opening its Big Ten season at Wisconsin on Dec. 21, set for a 6 p.m. CT tip on FS1.
1. For the second game in a row, NU failed to handle adversity
To Nebraska’s credit, outside of turning it over 12 times and going 11-of-17 on free throws, it couldn’t have played much better in the first half against one of the best teams in college basketball.
But for the second game in a row, the Huskers let a few bad breaks snowball into an avalanche that they had no chance of surviving.
On Wednesday, Georgia Tech made one winning play after another down the stretch to turn a one-point NU lead into an 11-point defeat over the final seven minutes.
On Friday, Creighton came out on fire to start the second half, and suddenly, Nebraska stopped doing all of the things that had made it so successful in the first 20 minutes.
They continued to give the ball away at an alarming rate, which changed their entire mentality on defense.
Nebraska stopped getting back defensively in transition and gave CU far too many easy looks in rhythm. It also stopped keeping the ball out of the lane, as the Bluejays scored 28 of their 54 second-half points in the paint.
Head coach Fred Hoiberg said he still loved his team's makeup and was excited to keep improving his group going into conference play. Thorir Thorbjarnarson said he had no doubt the Huskers would bounce back and show more resilience going forward.
If that doesn’t happen, this season will look a lot like last year for NU.
2. Turnovers are now a significant issue
Nebraska has now set season-highs in turnovers in each of its past three games, and Friday was by far the worst yet.
The Huskers gave the ball away a whopping 25 times to Creighton, nearly as many as their two previous season-highs vs. South Dakota (15) and Georgia Tech (16) combined.
Seven NU players ended up with multiple turnovers, and three – Allen, McGowens, and Thorbjarnarson – each had four.
It was a combination of several issues. Nebraska often tried to do too much with the ball, like awkward spin moves through the lane that ended up losing the ball or cross-court passes that never had a chance at reaching their intended targets.
An equally big issue for Hoiberg was that not only did his team turn it over that much, but it also failed to get back on defense to prevent easy points on the other end. When turnovers compound like that, they become near impossible to overcome.
Nebraska, which has a goal of limiting its turnovers to 10 or less per game, now has 56 giveaways over its past three contests. It averaged just 9.6 turnovers in its first three games this season.
3. Nebraska must try to focus on the positives
As poorly as the game ended for Nebraska, there was still a lot to feel good about how it handled the No. 8 team in the nation through the first half.
Creighton is a team with legitimate Final Four aspirations, and the Huskers went toe to toe with them for 20 minutes and had every chance to be leading at the break.
Nebraska handled Creighton’s early wave to start the game and eventually made the Bluejays go into a bit of a rut, at one point missing 11 of 12 shots to help give NU a lead with just over three minutes left in the half.
Had the Huskers not missed six free throws, gone 9-of-21 at the rim, or spotted CU 14 points off turnovers, they easily could have been leading at the break.
The reality, though, is that Nebraska did make all of those mistakes, and a promising start ended in an embarrassing finish.
NU now must try and find a way to bottle up its effort through the first 20 minutes on Friday and maintain that level of play for a full game.
The Huskers are required to take the next three days off before returning to practice on Tuesday. Hoiberg made it sound like they probably wouldn’t pursue scheduling a makeup game to replace last week’s canceled Florida A&M contest.
So Nebraska will likely try to focus on itself for 10 days before the brutal grind of 20 straight Big Ten games begins. The Huskers better make the most of it.