204 points, 51 fouls, four overtimes, multiple ejections and nearly three-and-a-half hours later, the dust had finally settled at PNC Arena in a basketball game best described as pure and utter bedlam.
Almost predictably, Nebraska came out on the losing end — a 104-100 defeat to North Carolina State in a tie for the longest game in Nebraska men’s basketball’s history. The Huskers fought extremely valiantly through both self-inflicted and extrinsic factors in the marathon contest, but ultimately failed their second major test of the young season.
Without further adieu, here are four takeaways from the incredible 60-minute battle:
The game could’ve ended hours ago, literally
Questionable last-second calls aside, Nebraska had NC State buried in the second half.
Following a frenetic opening half that saw the Huskers take a 39-38 lead into the locker room, head coach Fred Hoiberg’s squad picked up right where they left off. Nebraska opened the second period on a 19-9 run that lasted just over nine-and-a-half minutes, stunning the home crowd in the process.
A jumper from senior guard Kobe Webster extended Nebraska’s lead to 61-47 with 9:51 remaining, and it appeared the Huskers were well on their way to securing their second road victory of Hoiberg’s tenure. What’s more, Nebraska’s defense started the second half in great form, limiting the Wolfpack to 3-of-15 from the field and 0-for-7 from 3-point range during the run.
Only it didn’t. Down 14, NC State went on an immediate 14-0 scoring run to re-tie the affair. Senior forward Jericole Hellems, who made just 2-of-8 3-pointers after drilling six shots from behind the arc in the Wolfpack’s last outing against Louisiana Tech, capped the scoring run with a 3-pointer right in front of the home bench.
As it turns out, Hellems’ game-tying 3-pointer with 6:08 remaining proved to be one of the most important plays of the game.
At any rate, once the game did eventually go to overtime tied at 70, the Huskers had multiple opportunities to seize victory. Neither offense scored for the first four minutes of the opening overtime period, and senior guard Alonzo Verge Jr. could not convert a game-winning opportunity as the first overtime expired.
The second overtime might’ve been the most painful, though. It appeared the Huskers would take over the game in the second extra period, building an 85-80 lead with 1:44 remaining through two free throws from junior forward Derrick Walker.
Even as NC State responded with a 6-0 scoring spurt to take an 86-85 lead with four seconds remaining, the Wolfpack committed what should’ve been a game-losing foul 70 feet from the basket on Nebraska freshman guard Bryce McGowens. McGowens, who had been perfect at the line up until that point, made the first free throw to tie the game at 86.
He missed, further pushing the game down into madness.
About those officials
Thanks to Nebraska’s aforementioned inability to put the game away when the situation called for it, it’s hard to put the loss squarely at the feet of Wednesday night’s officiating crew. However, the game did finish with interesting disparities directly correlated to how the game was officiated.
Following Hellems’ aforementioned 3-pointer that tied the game at 61, a frustrated Nebraska junior forward Lat Mayen threw a shoulder at Hellems as the Huskers and Wolfpack went to their respective benches. That incident sparked a benches-clearing scuffle, which resulted in multiple ejections.
Mayen was tossed for the shoulder check, and freshmen forwards Eduardo Andre and Oleg Kojnets were ejected for leaving the bench and getting involved in the scrum. Perhaps most notably, NC State sophomore guard Cam Hayes, who had 13 points in the contest, was also ejected.
The officiating decision, while fair, still had a major impact on how the rest of the game was played.
Minutes later came the shocking no-call on Verge’s last-second drive to the basket in regulation, in which freshman guard Breon Pass appeared to clearly hit Verge’s arm as he was going to hoop.
Nothing was called, drawing the ire of Hoiberg, but the moment was perhaps symbolic of the game’s most notable discrepancy.
Nebraska was called for 31 fouls to NC State’s 19. The Huskers, one of the better teams at generating free throw opportunities entering Wednesday’s game, shot just 15 free throws over the six total periods of action. NC State, meanwhile, shot 42. Those opportunities proved vital in helping the Wolfpack ice the game in the fourth and final overtime.
Incredible guard play
Despite it coming in a losing effort, Verge was magnificent on Wednesday night. The Arizona State transfer finished with a team-high 25 points on 11-of-23 shooting with 10 rebounds and eight assists. He frequently made big plays down the stretch, too.
In transition, Verge made the go-ahead layup in regulation with a nasty ball fake in which he pretended to wrap the ball behind his back, freezing his defender just enough to convert a tough finish at the rim. The basket gave the Huskers a 70-69 lead with 16 seconds remaining.
In overtime, Verge was Nebraska’s offense. After a four-minute scoring drought from both sides, Verge would Walker for an easy bucket inside to open the scoring with 57 remaining in the first overtime. Then, following a NC State bucket, Verge responded with a floater in the lane.
Verge ultimately fouled out with 30 seconds remaining, but his performance was both remarkable and instrumental in a back-and-forth affair. So too was the performance of McGowens, who finished with 24 points on 9-of-22 shooting and nine rebounds. The former five-star recruit made his fair share of critical plays down the stretch, proving difficult to stop off the dribble.
The performance of the night, though, came from NC State sophomore guard Dereon Seabron. Seabron near single-handedly kept the Wolfpack alive in stretches, with a game-high 39 points on 11-of-22 shooting. Seabron additionally contributed a game-high 18 rebounds and was 17-of-20 from the free throw line.
Nebraska’s defense could not stop Seabron from getting to the basket, and he made the Huskers pay. Seabron consistently got downhill with little to no resistance, a troubling concern considering that Nebraska’s defense couldn’t adjust to his play. As a team, the Wolfpack shot just 6-of-34 from 3-point range, yet Nebraska still failed to fully commit to NC State in the paint.
Seabron’s performance is a quintessential example of that. His performance was brilliant, surely one of the best individual efforts Nebraska will face this season, and his career-high effort deserves to be lauded.
Quick turnaround, with a caveat
Following that marathon, the Huskers now turn their attention towards Big Ten play for a road tilt against Indiana on Saturday.
On-court difficulties that Saturday’s game at Assembly Hall will provide aside, fatigue could play a major role when the Huskers and Hoosiers do battle. On Tuesday, Indiana played a thrilling double-overtime game on the road against Syracuse, a game the Orange won 112-110 after a late Indiana rally ultimately fell short.
The loss marked Indiana’s first of the season, dropping first-year head coach Mike Woodson’s squad to 6-1 on the season.
Now, after Nebraska played a multiple-overtime game the following day, both teams should no-doubt be fatigued on Saturday. The early-season conditioning level of both Nebraska and Indiana makes for a fascinating storyline ahead of another difficult road contest for Hoiberg’s squad.