Nebraska vs. Creighton Photo No. 10

Nebraska’s Lat Mayen (11) runs with the ball during game against Creighton at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021 in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The scene was set.

In-state rivals. Passionate and adversarial fans. A series that, despite its non-competitive nature on the court, has remained incredibly intense off it.

Thousands of fans backed the Haymarket in downtown Lincoln and entered Pinnacle Bank Arena as the final second ticked off the pregame warmup clock.

Husker-Power chants buried the announcement of the Creighton starting lineup to begin the contest. In the waning moments on Tuesday night, it was chants of “C-U” falling on the backs of Husker fans, heading for the exits, that ended it.

Nebraska basketball fell to 1-2 on the season after suffering its 10th loss to Creighton in the last eleven meetings, 77-69.

“We lost that game in the first five minutes,” Nebraska head coach Fred Hoiberg said postgame.

The energy was there at the start. Nebraska began its opening defensive series with a heady steal by junior guard Trey McGowens who, while falling out of bounds, sent the ball ricocheting off a Bluejay and out of bounds. Senior guard Alonzo Verge Jr. found junior guard Lat Mayan in the corner on the ensuing Husker possession for a wide open 3-pointer.

If there was a single soul in that crowd that needed motivation to cheer, they had it.

The key for Hoiberg’s squad was in transition. Unfortunately, the Huskers failed to execute.

“After getting off to a solid start, they got almost anything they wanted in transition,” Hoiberg said.

For Creighton head coach Greg McDermott, the key over the opening stretch was defense.

“They jumped out on us 5-1 and then I think they scored five points over the next 20 possessions,” McDermott said postgame.

It wouldn’t be long before Creighton fans had something to cheer for. After Nebraska built a 5-1 lead, the Bluejays would take advantage of lackluster Nebraska ball movement and defensive breakdowns to go on a 13-0 run. Nebraska called timeout with 15:09 to go in the half.

Nebraska drew within six at 16-10, but the Bluejay onslaught continued. Creighton scored nine in a row to lead 25-10 with 11:09 to go in the first half. Through nearly the first nine minutes of the period, Creighton shot 67% from both the floor and 3-point range.

Then, it was Nebraska senior guard Kobe Webster’s turn to steal the show. In his first action of the season, Webster turned the game on its head when he checked with 8:45 to go in the half. It started slow, like a drip from a faucet that was barely open. Webster also hit a difficult fadeaway jumper from mid-range to cut the Creighton lead to 31-15.

Freshman guard Bryce McGowens was held scoreless until the 7:13 mark in the half. But, back-to-back dunks and a transition layup by the freshman sparked a 9-0 Nebraska run capped by a fading 3-point shot by freshman guard C.J. Wilcher. Just like that, Nebraska was within single digits at 33-24.

That scoring run for McGowens would be his only points of the game.

“They were physical on Bryce tonight,” Hoiberg said. “I thought when he cut, he had good possessions.”

Then came the thundering Webster torrent. On three straight Husker possessions, Webster either made or assisted on a 3-pointer. It was another 9-0 Husker run and the Creighton lead was 35-33.

“I know what I’m capable of, and I was glad it gave a spark but I want to win,” Webster said postgame.

Webster added another second-chance 3-pointer and set the arena ablaze. The dormant murmurs of a sleeping giant were turned to a reinvigorated, mighty roar of celebration.

“Tonight, the energy in the building was outstanding,” Hoiberg said.

McDermott felt the intensity within Pinnacle Bank Arena tonight too.

“There is no better crowd in college basketball when they get into it than they were here tonight,” McDermott said.

After Webster checked in, Nerbaska outscored Creighton 23-9. Despite a difficult start to the half, Nebraska was only down 40-36 at halftime.

There was another big loss for the Huskers in the first half. Junior guard Trey McGowens left the game with an apparent foot injury. After the game, Hoiberg confirmed that he had broken his foot and would miss extended time.

“Just devastating news for the heart of our team,” Hoiberg said. “It’s heartbreaking for a guy that has come in here and bought into his role.”

Webster described him as a vocal leader, great defender and an energy guy.

“He’s like a Patrick Beverly to our team,” Webster said postgame. “Whether he’s diving on the floor, blocking shots, he’s always gonna bring something.”

Hoiberg echoed Webster’s comments.

“Nobody is gonna replace Trey,” Hoiberg said. “Not one person does what Trey does. We’re gonna have to find a way to do it by committee.”

Without its number one leader and its “heart and soul” in Trey McGowens, Nebraska took the floor to start the second half.

Neither team could establish a rhythm on offense to begin the second half, with both experiencing scoring droughts of three minutes or longer in the opening moments of the second.

Nebraska drew within one during Creighton’s three minute drought at 44-43 but the go-ahead Husker bucket was stymied by an offensive foul on Trey McGowens, his third foul.

“If you take a lead like that in your home building with crowd...maybe it’s different,” Hoiberg said. “But, we never got it.”

The Bluejays broke out of their slump and outscored Nebraska 8-2 after the foul. With 11:15 remaining in the game, Creighton had grown its advantage to 52-45.

Each time Nebraska cut into the Creighton lead, the Bluejays had a response. Nebraska drew within four twice before the under eight, but Creighton matched the Husker output. After a runout and layup by Verge Jr., Creighton answered with back-to-back scores and led 62-55 with 7:22 to play.

Ultimately, the Creighton lead would stand. With 1:25 to go, a 3-pointer by Creighton senior forward Ryan Hawkins put the game on ice at the end of a 6-0 Bluejay run. In the end, it was poor shot selection and defensive breakdowns on Creighton shooters that would doom the Huskers in a losing effort.

Creighton left Lincoln Tuesday with a tough road win under its belt and a powerful sense of optimism.

“Would I have rather just blown it away and won big? It would have been easier for my heart probably,” McDermott said. “But in terms of growth for our team...it’s a good win for us.”

After the loss, Webster emphasized that Nebraska did not have the luxury of reflecting Tuesday’s contest.

“We’ve said it multiple times, we got to flush away a win and flush away a loss,” Webster said. “We got three games in six days.”

Now, with a record of 1-2, Hoiberg has to rally his group ahead of two more games this weekend.

“We’ve got to stay together,” Hoiberg said. “We can’t do anything about what has happened early in the season. These things unfortunately happen in this game and you got to find a way to step up.”

sports@dailynebraskan.com