After a close game with Indiana, an upset victory over Purdue and a tough loss to North Dakota, Nebraska basketball was in a state of flux. This was looking to be the case again, until Nebraska took the lead five minutes into the first half against Texas A&M Corpus Christi and never let it go.
The game started shaky for Nebraska. Texas A&M Corpus Christi matched the team for its first five points and the offense was unable to set a rhythm in transition, a staple for Hoiberg’s system.
“I thought early we had some great looks we just could not convert,” head coach Fred Hoiberg said. “A couple layups we missed and missed some wide open threes.”
Nebraska shot 12 3-pointers in the first half, but only made one. It was Nebraska’s worst shooting performance in a half all season, yet the Huskers still maintained a healthy lead. A big reason for this was good performances inside from Nebraska’s group of guards. Sophomore guard Cam Mack and senior guard Haanif Cheatham combined for 10 points in the paint in the first half.
“[The] good thing about Haanif was that he was in attack mode all game,” Hoiberg said. “I think we shot 19 free-throws in the first half and I think a lot of that was Haanif attacking the basket.”
This was compounded by uncharacteristically good free-throw shooting from the Huskers. Nebraska shot 68.4 percent from the free-throw line in the first half, up from 57.6 percent in its previous games.
Nebraska was also able to force 11 turnovers off of 40 Texas A&M Corpus Christi possessions and turned these turnovers into 12 points. Junior guard Dachon Burke Jr. blocked two shots and got two steals, while junior guard Thorir Thorbjarnarson got three steals. This defensive performance in the first half was a team effort, with players stepping up to deflect balls in the passing lane and forcing contested shots from the Islanders.
The second half started just like the first, Nebraska was disjointed on offense and was still unable to hit any 3-pointers. This led to the Islanders cutting the deficit down to 10 points. A steal from the visitors turned into a fast break opportunity, with Texas A&M Corpus Christi threatening to turn Nebraska’s lead into single-digits. Junior guard Jervay Green rose up for a chase-down block on the easy transition layup which helped stunt any momentum the visitors gained.
When Mack entered the game again after a short break, Nebraska’s offense still struggled. This changed when he entered. His wide array of dribble feints, no-look passes and sheer flair proved too much to handle.
Mack’s pick-and-roll partner freshman forward Yvan Ouedraogo notched a double-double, most of his points and rebounds came off putbacks and Mack assists, leveraging his frame and physicality to great effect.
From the eighth minute to the fifth minute in the second half, Nebraska was able to secure the game with a 14-5 run, the 3-point shot finally fell for senior guard Matej Kavas, Cheatham and Mack.
Nebraska closed out the game 73-52 with the help of freshman forward Akol Arop and freshman guard Charlie Easely. Easely in particular scored a 3-pointer with time expiring on the shot clock to end the night.
Nebraska next plays Rutgers and Iowa at home after New Years. This five-game home stint, tied for Nebraska’s longest of the season, will be followed by a road trip to Northwestern, before facing a daunting task against Ohio State in Columbus.
“We’ve got to have some overall consistency.” Hoiberg said, “You got to find a way to go out and play consistent.”