Nebraska Basketball: Huskers still can't get over the hump in 78-71 loss to Indiana
basketball Edit

Huskers still can't get over the hump in 78-71 loss to Indiana

Nebraska came into Monday night’s home game vs. Indiana searching for its first Big Ten Conference victory of the season.

The Hoosiers hadn’t won a true road game in 341 days.

Something had to give, and once again, NU found itself on the wrong end of the scoreboard in a 78-71 defeat.

Trayce Jackson-Davis posted game-highs with 23 points and 12 rebounds to help IU shoot 54.0 percent from the field and score a combined 56 of its 78 points in the paint and at the free-throw line.

Bryce McGowens led Nebraska with 20 points while Alonzo Verge Jr. scored 19 with four assists, but the Huskers never led in the loss despite pulling within two possessions eight times in the second half.

Indiana improved to 13-4 overall and 4-3 in Big Ten play, while NU dropped to 6-13 and 0-8. Nebraska has now lost 11 of its last 12 games and still has yet to defeat a high-major opponent this season.

Nebraska started the game by hitting four of its first five 3-pointers, but it had its hands full in the low post with Indiana’s Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson from the opening tip.

The duo combined to score 22 points on 8-of-10 shooting and eight rebounds in the first half. While IU shot just 1-of-7 from 3-point range, it made up for it by scoring 22 points in the paint and shooting a whopping 61.5 percent from the field at the break.

After trailing by 10 late in the half, a layup at the buzzer by Jackson-Davis sent the Huskers into halftime down 45-39.

Nebraska trimmed the deficit down to four after a quick 6-0 run sparked by back-to-back layups by Bryce McGowens midway through the second half. The Huskers again pulled within 59-55 after a 3-pointer by C.J. Wilcher with 10:31 remaining.

Finally, the Huskers had it down to 73-67 after a pair of Bryce McGowens free throws with 2:56 still to play.

But each time, Indiana was able to respond and keep the game under control with big baskets and key defensive stops. That was the theme from start to finish, even with Jackson-Davis sitting on the bench for the final 7:36 with four fouls.

Trey McGowens returned to the lineup for the first time since injuring his foot against Creighton on Nov. 16 and finished with seven points, two rebounds, and two steals.

3-POINT PLAY

1. Nebraska’s late-game management was not good enough

Nebraska had multiple chances to take the lead down the stretch, but as has been the case all season, it continued to miss one opportunity after another at the most critical points.

Bad shots, costly fouls, defensive breakdowns, and questionable late-game clock management all showed up at the worst possible times and kept NU from ever getting over the hump.

The worst mistakes came before the under-four timeout with Jackson-Davis and starting point guard Xavier Johnson on the bench with four fouls.

A dunk by Bryce McGowens pulled NU within 71-65, and Derrick Walker snagged a steal on the other end for a chance to get even closer. But a Verge turnover wasted the ensuing possession, and Indiana capitalized with a Thompson jumper.

Two free throws by Bryce McGowens got Nebraska back 73-67 shortly after, and Nebraska had a transition opportunity after a steal by Verge. Verge missed a layup, but Lat Mayen got the offensive rebound and kicked it out to Bryce for a three that was off the mark.

Trey McGowens missed a quality open look on a 3-pointer from the corner following a Verge steal with 51 seconds left. Instead of immediately fouling, head coach Fred Hoiberg opted to play out the possession.

Trey McGowens made a play on the ball but was called for a foul with 28 seconds left in the game and nine seconds on the shot clock. Johnson made both free throws to push the lead to eight, and the rest was too little, too late for the Huskers.

Until Nebraska’s players can step up and make the big plays at the most significant moments, this theme of close but no cigar will continue to define its season.

2. NU’s frontcourt was exploited once again

Indiana might not have the daunting size in the low post as Nebraska saw its last two games vs. Illinois and Purdue. But the Hoosiers still managed to control the game in the paint on both ends of the floor.

Jackson-Davis and Thompson dominated NU in the first meeting, combining for 25 points and 28 rebounds in a 68-55 win at Assembly Hall.

That recipe continued on Monday night, as the Hoosiers’ junior frontcourt duo totaled 35 points and 19 rebounds with 15 total free-throw attempts. Jackson-Davis finished with 14 points and seven rebounds vs. Nebraska on Dec. 4. He already had 14 and six by halftime in the rematch.

Walker, who came in averaging 10.2 ppg on 71% shooting from the field, was held to four points and four rebounds in 19 minutes after once again getting into early foul trouble. He only played six minutes and did not attempt a shot in the first half, and he didn’t get his first basket until 16:32 left in the game.

The bit of good news for the Huskers was second-year freshman Eduardo Andre, who played a career-high 21 minutes and finished with four points and team-high five rebounds. His previous high in minutes was 15, and he played 14 in the first half alone.

Still, tonight’s loss was another example of the uphill battle NU has to fight in almost every game it plays in the Big Ten.

3. Welcome back, Trey

For the first time in 62 days, Trey McGowens was back on the court playing a live college basketball game.

Hoiberg said the plan going into was to limit him to around 16 to 22 minutes off the bench, and the fourth-year junior ended up playing 21, including 13 in the second half.

Trey’s return provided a desperately-needed morale boost to a Nebraska team that needed all the inspiration it could get. He was also one of just four Huskers with a positive plus/minus rating, finishing at a team-best +4.

When he first checked into the game with 15:29 left coming out of the first media timeout, the PBA crowd welcomed him back with a roar.

His first shot attempt came with 12:41 in the half, as he buried a 3-pointer from the right wing to cut NU’s deficit to 17-14. That was his first 3-point attempt and make of the season.

Trey’s presence as another ball-handler and facilitator on offense was immediately apparent. But his impact was especially felt on the defensive perimeter, as he swiped two steals and nearly came up with a game-changing third in the final minutes that was called a foul.

McGowens was primarily matched up on Johnson when they were both in the game, and Johnson ended up scoring nine points on five shots and had five turnovers to five assists.

Even little things like going over a ball screen to draw an offensive foul and challenging Indiana’s guards well behind the 3-point line made a noticeable difference in NU’s overall intensity and engagement on defense.

Trey’s role should only continue to grow as he acclimates back to Big Ten game shape, and he will increase Nebraska’s chances of success every minute he’s on the floor.

THEY SAID IT

“It felt good. I definitely missed being out there. Basketball is what I have done my whole life and you can say that my life pretty much revolves around basketball. I'm in the gym 2-3 times a day and once you lose that it makes you appreciate it a little more. They tell me that I am in the gym too much and to stay out, but I have been away from it so long. I could not wait to get back.”
— Junior guard Trey McGowens on returning to action after missing the last 15 games due to injury.