George Mason blows past Nebraska in 85-66 blowout
Less than 24 hours after notching an impressive win over Washington State in the first round of the Cayman Islands Classic, Nebraska was smacked back down to earth by George Mason on Tuesday night.
The Huskers looked out of sorts from start to finish in a lopsided 85-66 defeat, getting out-rebounded 49-26 and turning the ball over 15 times in the process. The Patriots led from the 9:27 mark of the first half on through the final buzzer.
Junior Dachon Burke scored a team-high 14 points with five steals, but overall it was a night where very little went NU’s way and dropped the team to 3-3 on the season.
“We got off to a poor start, obviously didn’t handle their pressure very well and turnovers early led to easy baskets,” head coach Fred Hoiberg said during his post-game interview on the Husker Sports Network. “I thought we had a really good stretch where we fought back and brought it even, and unfortunately allowed them to finish off the half on a big run.”
The night couldn’t have started much worse for Nebraska, as George Mason (7-1) jumped out with a 10-2 run and hauled in 10 rebounds before NU got its first.
Burke was able to keep the Huskers within reach by scoring their first 12 points, and a layup by junior Jervay Green reclaimed the lead at 16-14 with 12:33 left in the half.
But the Patriots would quickly regain control with another 10-0 run and led by as many as 11 before settling on a 37-28 halftime advantage. Nebraska got out-rebounded 28-12, committed 11 turnovers compared to only nine made shots, and scored just two points over the final 5:27 of the half.
Burke scored 12 of his 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting in the opening half, but the rest of the team shot just 5-of-21.
George Mason would push its lead to 15 early in the second half before freshman Kevin Cross came in off the bench and provided a spark and scored all 11 of his points after halftime.
Cross helped the Huskers go on an 8-0 run and get back to 47-41 on a 3-pointer by senior Haanif Cheatham, but GMU came right back with a 7-0 rally of its own. Nebraska again pulled within seven on a layup by sophomore Cam Mack with 7:49 to go, but that would be as close as it would get.
The Patriots closed the game on an 18-6 run while NU made just one field goal over a span of more than seven minutes before a meaningless dunk by Burke with 28 seconds on the clock.
“We did take the momentum back,” Hoiberg said. “I’m proud of the way the guys fought and dug in and handled the pressure and got good shots on the backside. We had a really good stretch of offense there in the second half but just could not get the stop when we needed it.”
George Mason shot 60.7 percent from the field and hit 7-of-12 from 3-point range in the second half, which made up for committing 19 turnovers on the night. Nebraska, on the other hand, only shot 39 percent for the game and only made 10 of their 30 3-point attempts.
Cheatham finished with 13 points while Matej Kavas added 10 off the bench, while Jamal Hartwell led GMU with a game-high 23 points and six assists.
The Huskers will face South Florida in the third-place game on Wednesday with tip-off set for 4 p.m. CT.
“It’s just kind of the same old story of when adversity hits, how are you going to handle it?" Hoiberg said. "I thought our guys hung their heads… You’ve got to find a way to dig in and get a big stop at the end when you need it to hopefully get over the hump.”
1. Once again, rebounds defined the game
Nebraska’s rebounding issues kind of are what they are right now. The Huskers are probably going to get beaten up pretty badly on the boards in most games they play, and how much they can limit that deficiency will ultimately dictate their chances for success as much as anything.
Tuesday night was the same story, as George Mason absolutely dominated NU on the glass to the tune of a 23-rebound advantage (15-7 on offensive boards). Nebraska has now been out-rebounded in five of its six games this season, with the only edge coming vs. South Dakota State.
It’s also allowed an opposing player to haul in double-digit rebounds in all but one game so far, with Washington State being the lone exception and GMU’s AJ Wilson joining the list with 14 caroms.
Hoiberg said his guys have to develop the mentality of being the physical aggressor in the paint to be better rebounders.
“When we do that, we’re a really good team,” Hoiberg said. “When we don’t, we’re very average.”
2. Adversity hit and NU did not respond
Before the game, Nebraska was out in the parking lot of its Cayman Islands hotel doing a makeshift walk-through trying to scramble prep for George Mason just hours after beating Washington State.
When the Patriots came out firing and NU’s shots weren’t falling early, the Huskers seemed to fall apart the way they had in the previous two losses this year.
The good news was that guys like Burke and Cross were able to step up and give their team a lift to keep the game close, but Hoiberg was critical of NU’s overall body language all night.
Handling adversity was something Hoiberg thought would be a major issue for this squad since the summer, and it’s played out just as he feared so far.
3. Nebraska was too careless
The 15 turnovers tell plenty about Nebraska’s lack of focus on Tuesday night, but there were other areas where the effort just wasn’t there that proved to be just as costly.
Rebounding was obviously a big issue, but the Huskers were far too lackadaisical on defense to get the stops they so desperately needed when trying to rally in the second half.
Rotations were slow, and the close-outs on shooters did little to impact the shot and sometimes didn’t even have guys putting a hand up.
Maybe some of that was fatigue from the quick turnaround, but Nebraska just isn’t good enough right now to take those types of things for granted.