According to Nebraska junior guard Thorir Thorbjarnarson, head coach Fred Hoiberg gave the players the day off on Wednesday, giving them an opportunity to reflect on exactly what happened on Tuesday against UC Riverside.
This day of rest may be needed again after Saturday’s match against Southern Utah, but for different reasons, as the team exhausted themselves in a 2OT thriller which ended in a 79-78 loss.
The game was level for the first seven minutes. At one point, Nebraska went up 12-6, but let go of that lead to a two-minute run which tied the game. Against UC Riverside, Nebraska couldn’t recover when this happened.
However, the work of Thorbjarnarson and a number of field goals made from freshman forward Kevin Cross gave Nebraska a 19-12 lead. Nebraska closed out the first half strong, leading 37-26 at the break.
Cross, who had only shot 1-10 in the loss to UC Riverside, had a bounce-back game, shooting 8-15 from the field and playing the entirety of both OT periods.
“I thought he [Cross] was one of the best players on the floor for us. He was finishing. Kevin has got a good feel in the middle of that zone,” Hoiberg said after the game. “I’ll say this about Kevin, He’s bought into everything about getting his body right.”
Nebraska continued its run in the second half. At its height, Nebraska was up 44-30. Unable to close out the game, however, a string of stagnant offensive possessions gave the Thunderbirds a route back into the game. Southern Utah clawed the game back to a single possession, only down 54-51 to the Huskers. Cross’ turnover to the help defender on the wing resulted in an eventual goaltending call, cutting the deficit to one point.
PBA started to tense up. The stadium was quiet. A game which seemed decided had quietly crept back into contention. A string of timeouts only compounded the anxiety from the crowd.
It was then that a standard pick-and-roll action between sophomore guard Cam Mack and Cross, one of the deadliest motions of the game, ended with Mack floating the ball into the basket. PBA erupted as the wiry guard went on a six-point run by himself, commanding the ball and orchestrating the offense.
Mack also showed the passion which made him so appealing late in the second half. With the Thunderbird offense approaching, Mack began to call on the crowd to give the defense some help, holding his arms in the air and hopping up and down. PBA responded in full, enthralled by their young point guard.
Then, Southern Utah took its first lead since the start of the first half. The Huskers would be forced to test their nerves if they wanted to gain their first victory on the year. It came down to a Nebraska possession with 16.5 seconds left on the clock, down one point after a couple of made Southern Utah free throws.
Mack drove into the lane, and was fouled. With a 64% career free throw percentage, Mack would only have to make one of two free throws in order to send the game to overtime. Mack missed both, and the game seemed out of reach.
Down three with six seconds left on the clock following two made Thunderbird free throws, Mack gave the ball to junior guard Jervay Green, who hoisted up a desperation 3-point shot several feet behind the left wing. It went in, and the game went to overtime tied at 69.
“I saw the time was going down,” Green said. “I just shot it.”
The first overtime period went by anxiously, with both teams testing their endurance and mental fortitude. For the last three minutes of the period, the teams were tied at 72, and that’s the way it would stay, leading to 2OT.
The game, again, looked to be out of reach for the Huskers in the first two minutes of the period. Southern Utah had only scored a single free throw to go up 73-72, but a two-minute dry period for both teams had Nebraska hoping for electricity somewhere. It came from Green again, who scored four points to put Nebraska up 76-73. On its last possession of the game, Southern Utah scored off of a mid-range jumpshot to go up 79-78 with 3.5 seconds left.
To end the game, Mack drove into the lane and his layup hit the backboard before hitting the rim and falling away, sealing a 79-78 2OT loss.
“I feel like we took a step forward. But when it came down to it we should’ve won that game,” Mack said. “We just didn’t execute. That’s it.”
The Huskers’ next challenge is against South Dakota State on Friday, where Nebraska will hope to turn its improvement into a winning result.