basketball Edit

Huskers fight for 74-73 road upset over No. 10 Wisconsin

What had already been one of the most impressive weeks Nebraska had seen in years reached a new level on Sunday, as the Huskers traveled to Madison and stunned No. 10 Wisconsin in a 74-73 upset.

With leading scorer Bryce McGowens out with an injury and Trey McGowens getting ejected early in the second half, Alonzo Verge Jr. carried the load with a game-high 26 points and six assists while the Huskers shot 53.7 percent from the field as a team.

Despite a wild swing of fouls that turned an eight-point lead into a 10-point deficit early in the second half, NU closed the game on a 12-2 run, with Verge scoring its final nine points.

In the end, Nebraska pulled off just its fourth-ever road win over a top-10 opponent and its first overall since “No-Sit Sunday” on Mar. 9, 2014, over No. 9 Wisconsin. It also marked NU’s first top-10 road victory since topping ninth-ranked Michigan State in 2014.

According to the Big Ten Network research team, with victories at No. 23 Ohio State and now No. 10 Wisconsin, NU became the first 20-loss team to defeat consecutive ranked opponents in at least the last 50 years.

Alonzo Verge Jr. scored 26 points to lead Nebraska to its first top-10 road win since 2014.
Alonzo Verge Jr. scored 26 points to lead Nebraska to its first top-10 road win since 2014. (Associated Press)

Nebraska couldn’t buy a 3-pointer to start the game, but it made up for it by playing an otherwise ideal opening 20 minutes.

Derrick Walker scored 12 of his 15 points in the first half, and NU led by as many as 12 before going into halftime with a 40-36 advantage.

While they shot just 1-of-9 from downtown, the Huskers were a blistering 76% (16-of-21) from inside the arc with 26 points in the paint. Defensively, they forced Wisconsin - which came in ranked third nationally in offensive turnover percentage (12.8) - into seven turnovers, including four steals.

Nebraska had pushed its lead up to 45-37 with 18:54 to play, and then the game - and the officiating - completely flipped on its head.

The shift started when Trey McGowens was called for a flagrant 2 foul on Johnny Davis and was ejected with 17:32 to play. A minute and a half later, Alonzo Verge Jr. was hit with a technical for looking at an official after a made layup.

The Huskers had 10 fouls over the first 6:20 of the second half, and the Badgers spent the remaining 13:40 in the double bonus.

Wisconsin capitalized by going on a 24-7 run, with 14 of those 24 points coming on free throws, and going up 62-52 with just over 12 minutes to play.

Just when it seemed like the game had all but slipped away, though, Nebraska kept fighting back.

Brad Davison hit a 3-pointer to make it 71-62 Badgers with 5:48 left to play, but UW would only score two more points and did not make a field goal for the final 5:48.

That allowed the Huskers to steadily chip away at the deficit, and a clutch three by Verge with 1:50 remaining put NU back on top at 72-71.

Two more free throws by Verge made it 74-71 with 37 seconds left, but CJ Wilcher missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with just 11 seconds to play.

Wisconsin freshman and former Bellevue (Neb.) West standout Chucky Hepburn had a chance to tie it with three free throws with 19 seconds on the clock, but he only made 2-of-3 attempts to leave NU up by one.

Hepburn had another chance to win it on the final shot, but his 3-pointer was off the mark.

Wilcher, who made his second start of the season in place of Bryce McGowens, finished with 10 points in a team-high 37 minutes of work. Eight of the nine Huskers who played in the win scored at least four points.

The Badgers, who had already clinched a share of the regular-season title, had been 15-0 this year in games decided by six points or less. Sunday was their first such loss.

3-POINT PLAY

1. An unbelievable effort

This was a game where Wisconsin was playing on Senior Day for a chance to claim an outright Big Ten regular-season championship and clinch the No. 1 seed in next week’s conference tournament.

Nebraska had already lost 21 games and had nothing to play for outside of pride.

And yet it was the Huskers who played with the effort, fight, and resilience of a team with everything on the line.

NU’s top scorer, Bryce McGowens, did not play due to an injury. Its heart-and-soul leader, Trey McGowens, was ejected with 17:32 still remaining in the second half.

Verge, who had been playing as well as any point guard in the country the past couple of weeks, picked up his third foul just 17 seconds into the second half and was hit with his fourth on a cheap technical less than four minutes later.

All of that led to a 10-point deficit on the road against a top-10 Wisconsin team that had won the past seven meetings vs. NU dating back to 2019.

The Huskers could have easily quit, and few would have blamed them, considering how the game turned in the second half. Instead, they rallied together and continued to battle, and they were rewarded with far and away the signature victory of the Fred Hoiberg era.

2. Alonzo Verge has been phenomenal

No player has been a more accurate representation of Nebraska’s volatile season than Verge.

When the senior point guard is good, the Huskers are usually at their best. When he struggles, so does the rest of the team.

That’s why it’s no coincidence that NU’s three-game winning streak has directly corresponded with Verge’s most impressive three outings of the year.

Not only did he drop 26 points while playing the majority of the second half with four fouls, but Verge did it on 10-of-16 shooting and went 5-for-6 at the free-throw line.

He dished out a game-high six assists, hauled in five rebounds, and swiped two steals.

Hoiberg said on his post-game show on the Husker Radio Network that he decided to put Verge back in the game with four fouls at the under-12 media timeout because “we just felt like we had to, or that thing was going to slip away.”

“He just made play after play after play all game long,” Hoiberg said.

3. The officiating was a disaster

It’s often lazy to blame officiating for the outcome of a game, but the momentum swing that the referee crew caused early in the second half was a sight to behold.

From the 18:43 mark to 13:40 - a span of just over five minutes of gameplay - Nebraska was whistled for an astounding nine fouls. That included a flagrant 2 foul and ejection on Trey McGowens and a technical on Verge just minutes later.

Wisconsin shot a whopping 17 free throws over the first seven minutes of the second half. The Huskers attempted one during that stretch.

As a result, 14 points of a 24-7 UW run came at the free-throw line and changed the entire tenor of a game in which Nebraska had arguably played like the better team.

McGowens’ flagrant was tough because replays showed his elbow did come down across the face of Johnny Davis. Intentional or not, it looked bad enough to at least understand the officials’ ruling.

Verge’s technical, however, was another instance of a referee’s ego changing a game. After making a layup through contact, Verge turned back to glance at the official, likely wondering why a foul hadn’t been called.

The ref, Lamont Simpson, immediately hit Verge with a T.

The most absurd part of it all was that Nebraska couldn’t take a step without committing a foul to open the second half. Then the Huskers were whistled just one time of the final 13:40 of the game.

Wisconsin ended up going 20-for-25 at the line overall and 17-of-20 in the second half. Nebraska attempted just 14 free throws total.

THEY SAID IT

"I just look back on this, and for one, it makes me a little bit sick. I'd like to start this whole thing over with this group the way they're playing right now. But listen, we're finishing off on a positive, and that's important for our future. We're all 0-0 right now, and anything can happen. So we're just going to keep going out and grinding and hopefully find a way to compete and keep winning basketball games."
— Head coach Fred Hoiberg on Nebraska's improbable three-game winning streak to end the regular season.