Basketball vs. Michigan Photo No. 7

Nebraska’s Keisei Tominaga (30) runs with the ball during the game against Michigan at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The Nebraska men’s basketball team lost again.

Fresh off a clubbing at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Tuesday by Michigan 102-67, the Huskers were faced with an unappealing matchup in the No. 18 Auburn Tigers. Things went according to script, with the Huskers falling behind early and otherwise never looking in the game.

Following the Michigan obliteration, head coach Fred Hoiberg stated openly that he would consider radical changes to the team’s setup. However, against the Tigers, the team lined up exactly the same as its defeat a few days before.

And, like against Michigan, the team put up some modicum of competition for the first few minutes of the game. Five minutes into the first half, the score was 10-9 to the Tigers, but even then the Huskers looked fragile.

Then, the run started. A dazzling array of 3-pointers, a dunk and good fastbreak play gave Auburn a commanding 23-9 lead, one Nebraska would never seriously recover from.

Auburn dominated both the front and backcourt, with freshman forward Jabari Smith scoring in all three levels throughout the game. He ended Saturday’s affair with 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting, also going 3-of-6 from beyond-the-arc.

Sophomore guard Wendell Green Jr. also took the plaudits against Nebraska, hitting two 3-pointers to get the Tigers’ offense going while ending the game with 19 points.

From when the Tigers took the lead in the first half, up 23-9 against the Huskers, the rest of the game is almost wholly unremarkable. The closest the Huskers ever got to a comeback was 15 points, that happening early in the second half, but the rest of the game the team looked disoriented and lost.

Surprisingly, on the offensive end, the team performed competently from behind the arc. Yes, in the first half the Huskers shot a mere 2-of-10, but it went 5-of-12 in the second half to finish 31.8% from 3-point range.

When the team’s offense grinds to a halt, it tends to result in a high distribution of 3-pointers, but of the Huskers’ shots, only 40% were behind the arc against Auburn. The team shot poorly overall at 42.6%, but that wasn’t so poor to imply on its own a 30-point difference between the two teams.

Rather, the overwhelming problem against Auburn was turnovers. Uncharacteristically, the Huskers gave up 20 turnovers on their 71 possessions, a turnover rate of nearly 30%. By comparison, the team has so far this season been solid with the ball, ranking 37th in the nation with a turnover percentage of 15.7% according to kenpom.com.

The reason for this disparity likely came as a result of Auburn’s quality. Currently, the Tigers possess the 10th-highest steal percentage in the country. Of the Huskers’ 20 turnovers, 16 came off steals.

Auburn turned Nebraska’s ball profligacy into a massive 27 points, with a not-insignificant number of those devoted to Globetrotters-esque performance art. With seven minutes left in the second half, Green stole the ball off a poor pass from freshman forward Eduardo Andre, eventually linking up with Smith on an off-the-backboard alley-oop.

Nebraska’s defense was porous as well. By the end of the game, the Tigers went 14-of-31 from the 3-point line, and did so at what seemed like a canter. 

When teams score lots of points, one key reason for this tends to be free throws. They’re some of the easiest points a team can get. The Tigers didn’t go this route, instead relying on, in the end, just being a superior side to the Huskers.

Nebraska was outclassed in every phase of play. The only statistic where the Huskers beat Auburn was blocks.

The lone positive performance on the team came from freshman guard CJ Wilcher, who managed 17 points off 6-of-9 shooting, but most of these shots came in garbage time when the Tigers had already secured the game.

Freshman guard Bryce McGowens has struggled mightily to adapt to play against tougher opponents, though he played fine against Auburn. His game is primarily predicated on good finishing and getting to the line, and he did both well. McGowens went 4-of-8 from inside the arc and shot seven free throws, with three of those coming on a dubious 3-point foul call.

On the other hand, McGowens also went 0-for-4 from the 3-point line, a much-needed skill in a team that is almost without reliable 3-point shooting.

Senior guard Alonzo Verge Jr. had a rather uneven game. He went 4-of-10 from inside the arc with four assists, but was also responsible for a full seven Nebraska turnovers.

Thankfully for Hoiberg and the Huskers, the team has a week to work through a possibly new setup and gather themselves after an embattled start to the year, and they return to play against a weaker opponent in the Kansas State Wildcats.

But, with the standard of play the team has held itself to thus far, its competitiveness in any game for the rest of the season is highly suspect.

sports@dailynebraskan.com