Head coach Fred Hoiberg made his much-anticipated Nebraska coaching debut Wednesday night, guiding the Huskers to a 91-63 victory over Doane in their lone exhibition game.
After a slow start, the Huskers bullied the overmatched Tigers on both ends of the floor and cruised to victory. Nebraska will play its first regular season game in its home opener on Nov. 5 against UC Riverside, but there are several takeaways from its final preseason tuneup.
Hoiberg expressed his displeasure with Nebraska’s free-throw shooting during their closed-door scrimmage against Wichita State, and tonight’s performance from the line did not help ease his concerns.
Nebraska shot 11-24 from the line on Wednesday night, good for 45.8%. The Huskers, a 70% free-throw shooting team a season ago, lack players that are established scorers from the line.
Freshman forward Yvan Ouedraogo had a particularly rough night at the charity stripe, making 2-5 attempts. Freshman forward Kevin Cross had the best night of the bunch with 4-5 made free-throws.
While Hoiberg jokingly quipped that former Nebraska head coach-turned assistant Doc Sadler was “fired” from his assumed position as “free-throw coach,” a sharp improvement is needed if Nebraska wants to win—and close out—close games this season.
Wednesday’s contest can best be described as a game of runs. The final score may not indicate it, but Doane made the Huskers sweat early, taking a 10-2 lead just over two minutes into the game.
Over the next 13 minutes, though, the Huskers woke up and began to bully Doane—going on a 35-5 run to take a lead over the Tigers that they wouldn’t relinquish. Junior guard Thorir Thorbjarnarson paced the Husker attack over that stretch with eight points.
Nebraska carried a 19-point lead into the break, but the Tigers exchanged baskets with the Huskers for the first few minutes of the second half. After a Doane midrange jumper cut the Husker lead to 57-40 with 14:19 remaining, Nebraska went on another huge run to kill any Doane momentum.
The Huskers went on a 22-5 run over the ensuing eight minutes and 24 seconds, highlighted by a sequence where junior guard Jervay Green finished an acrobatic and-one, made the free-throw and intercepted an errant Doane pass on the next possession en-route to a one-handed breakaway slam.
Play of returners
It’s no secret that Nebraska basketball underwent an extreme roster overhaul from last season to this one. Despite so many new faces, the two lone holdovers from the Tim Miles era gave the Huskers some much-needed stability in big moments.
Thorbjarnarson and junior guard Dachon Burke Jr. paced the Nebraska offense when it desperately needed to score. As per usual, Thorbjarnarson freed himself on three backdoor cuts for critical points during Nebraska’s first-half run.
After eight first-half points, Thorbjarnarson finished with 10 points on the night and four rebounds. As the lone returner with game time last year, Thorbjarnarson reiterated that it felt great to get back out there and continue to work as a team.
“It felt great,” Thorbjarnarson said. “We got off to a slow start, but I think it was just the nerves of not playing in PBA for a long time.”
Burke, who was playing his first competitive game in 606 days after sitting out last season, lead the Huskers in scoring with 15 points on 6-9 shooting. Two of Burke’s three three-pointers came on back-to-back possessions in the second half, possessions that were critical in settling the Huskers back into the game.
Outside shooting struggles
Offensively, the Huskers established a theme—take shots in the paint, or shoot the three. Nebraska shot just two shots outside of the paint and inside the three-point arch all night, one of which was a Burke made jumper that Hoiberg jokingly expressed ire with postgame.
The Huskers were 27-37 on shots in the paint, but 8-28 from behind the three-point line. Senior three-point specialist Matej Kavas was off Wednesday night—1-4 behind the arc—after making five three-pointers over the weekend against Wichita State.
Burke and freshman guard Samari Curtis stepped up in Kavas’ place, knocking down a combined six threes to pace Nebraska’s long-range attack. Green, who was a 55% three-point shooter last season at Western Nebraska CC, was 0-3 on the night.
Local talent on display
The back-end of Wednesday’s exhibition featured opportunities for Nebraska’s local players to see significant minutes. Freshmen Omaha products Akol Arop, Jace Piatkowski and Bret Porter and Lincoln native Charlie Easley shared the floor at the end of the game.
Arop played the most minutes (11) of the bunch, and he and Easley were impressive in the brief time they were on the floor. Arop notched five points on 2-4 shooting, and Easley added six.
The two nearly connected on an alley-oop late in the game that would’ve made Pinnacle Bank Arena erupt, but unfortunately Arop jammed the dunk off the rim. The four Nebraska natives finished the game strong, and Hoiberg appreciated the toughness that the local players showed.
“The fun thing was to see those guys out there. Charlie, Jace, Brett Porter, Akol those guys that put so much effort into it on the scout team, they did a terrific job,” Hoiberg said. “It's fun to see those types of players.”
Nebraska will look to officially start the Hoiberg era 1-0 on Tuesday, Nov. 5, when it faces UC Riverside. The game tips off at 8 p.m. and will be on Big Ten Network.