There were some tense moments, but it was all smiles for head coach Fred Hoiberg and his brand new basketball team on Wednesday night.
Junior guard Dachon Burke Jr., one of two returning players for Nebraska, led the Huskers with 15 points on 6-9 shooting as they cruised to a 91-63 win over Doane at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Freshman guard Samari Curtis added 12 points and Haanif Cheatham, Kevin Cross and Thorir Thorbjarnarson each finished with 10 points.
Doane junior Anthony Laravie led the Tigers with 13 points.
“For the first time out in front of the fans, I was pleased for the most part with our approach to this game,” Hoiberg said after the win. “I thought Cam [Mack] really took over the game offensively. I thought Thorir [Thorbjarnarson] was a great spark off the bench. I thought he had some great reads and back cuts. I thought they had a good little chemistry going on.”
There were plenty of nerves from Nebraska early on. Burke was playing his first collegiate game in over a year after sitting out as a transfer last season. Sophomore guard Cam Mack and junior guard Jervay Green each made their debuts after grinding out the past year at junior colleges.
The nerves showed in the first several minutes, as Doane, playing its fourth game in eight days, jumped out to a 10-2 lead. Nebraska missed five of its first six shots, committed three fouls and turned the ball over twice in the first four minutes.
Momentum shifted drastically at the 16:32 mark, when Thorbjarnarson checked in.
Thorbjarnarson, Nebraska’s lone returning scorer from last season, quickly made an impact on both ends of the court. He helped clean up defensive mismatches, sparking a run of over 12 minutes with one made shot by the Tigers. On offense, Thorbjarnarson had a putback and a pair of backdoor cuts to help the Huskers pull ahead for good.
Green, who was benched early for Thorbjarnarson, returned at the 12-minute mark and sparked the offense immediately with a three-point play and a fastbreak assist to Burke.
Over the course of a 35-5 run, 11 fastbreak points, 11 turnovers and 18 layups helped Nebraska finish the half shooting 51 percent with a 43-24 lead. All of that was in spite of shooting 3-12 from three-point range and 4-11 from the free throw line.
After the game, Hoiberg jokingly blamed assistant coach Doc Sadler for the struggles at the free throw line, saying he was the free throw coach.
“I thought we did a solid job,” Hoiberg said after the game about his team’s rebounding. “For the most part I was pleased.”
Burke’s jitters were gone by the start of the second half, as he buried a pair of threes in the first minute of the half. His third shot of the half had Hoiberg at his angriest point of the night, as he drained a mid-range jumper to push the lead to 25.
In the first half, the Huskers attempted just one shot from mid-range.
“It kind of pissed me off that he made it,” Hoiberg joked.
True freshman Yvan Ouedraogo started the second half strong as well, grabbing two offensive rebounds and scoring quickly on a putback. The 17-year-old would go on to finish with six points and six rebounds.
Rebounding was a significant focus of Hoiberg’s for Wednesday’s game, particularly after his team struggled with it last Saturday in a loss to Wichita State in a closed scrimmage. He set a goal to hold the Tigers under 10 offensive rebounds in the game after the Shockers had 19.
Doane finished the game with nine offensive rebounds and was out-rebounded 49-37 by Nebraska.
With the outcome essentially decided, the final eight minutes of play turned into a high school all-star game, with eight of the 10 players on the court hailing from Nebraska. Freshman Charlie Easley was the star of the show, scoring six points and narrowly missing a lob to fellow freshman Akol Arop.
After the tense start, the Huskers quickly returned to their laid-back default setting. Green danced on the court between timeouts, Mack and Burke were cracking jokes with each other during their press conference, and both them and Thorbjarnarson shouted “Hi Mom!” multiple times as they were leaving to Fred’s wife, Carol, who was standing in the back of the room.
Things will get serious quickly for Nebraska, as they begin the regular season next Tuesday at home against UC Riverside. The Highlanders went 10-23 last season.
“We have to get back to work and have a great week of practice heading into our opener,” Hoiberg said. “It's always important to get off to a good start, and hopefully we’ll come out and play with great energy and urgency on Tuesday night.”