Bryce 11.12

Nebraska's Bryce McGowens (5) shoots the ball against Sam Houston State's Savion Flagg (1) and Tristan Ikpe (12) during the game against Sam Houston State University at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Ice cold.

That phrase could describe a lot of things. It could describe the frigid return of the winter weather on Friday night, or the look a mother gives her teenager returning home far past curfew. 

Unfortunately, for the Huskers, that term described their shooting performance in the first half. 

Fortunately for Nebraska, there are two halves.

A brutal 9-for-29 first half shooting mark for Nebraska turned to a much improved 13-of-26 in the second half as Nebraska defeated Sam Houston State 74-65, earning its first win of the year Friday night at Pinnacle Bank Arena. 

It was physical on the court. There was no better example of this than when freshman guard Bryce McGowens walked into his postgame press conference with a swollen lip.

“They were trying to get under us,” McGowens said postgame. “We had a lot of bumping and jawing so it was fun.”

Head coach Fred Hoiberg’s squad certainly needed the win.

“It’s huge for morale,” Hoiberg said postgame. “It’s been a couple somber days for our group and they battled through it.”

Nebraska started slow again like Tuesday night. Two of the first three trips down the floor for the Husker offense ended in turnovers, and Nebraska surrendered three offensive rebounds on their first two defensive stands. 

It fell on senior guard Alonzo Verge Jr. to create early, and he did so, finding McGowens in the corner for a wide open 3-pointer and adding a difficult fade away jumper to give the Huskers a 5-3 lead.

The Husker defense started strong and forced five turnovers in the first eight minutes of the half. But, the Nebraska attack was as stagnant as the defense was stout. With 11:44 remaining in the first half, Nebraska had shot a mere 1-of-5 from 3-point territory and 3-of-11 from the field. 

The score was not where Hoiberg wanted it, but the physicality was.

“We had a lot of physicality in the last few days of practice,” Hoiberg said. “I thought it carried over tonight besides the first minute.”

The five Bearkat turnovers had led to only a single Husker point and the score stood tied 8-8. In the next five minutes, the Bearkats outscored the Huskers 14-4, Nebraska shot 1-of-6 from the floor and Sam Houston held a double digit lead at 22-12. 

Then, life for the Nebraska offense. Two tough baskets on slashing drives from Bryce McGowens and a transition dunk by freshman forward Eduardo Andre brought the Huskers within four at 22-18.

Andre was everywhere in the final eight minutes of the first half. He used his 6-foot-11 frame to contest shots, snag boards and break the thaw imprisoning the voices of the Husker faithful within PBA, with a fiery flush punctuating a 6-0 Huskers run making it 27-24 Bearkats. Andre tallied six points, five rebounds and a block in the first half.

“The key person this whole night was Eduardo (Andre),” Hoiberg said. “He gave such a spark out there when we needed it most and helped come in and control the glass.”

The monster slam from Andre had only one description from McGowens.

“Nah-nah-nah, nah-nah-nah. Sports Center,” McGowens said.

Nebraska outscored Sam Houston State 9-5 over the final three minutes of the half including a deep three by Bryce McGowens at the end of the first half. Bryce McGowens led the Huskers in scoring at the half with 14 points.

But, the Huskers couldn’t stop Bearkat senior guard Savion Flagg. The transfer from Texas A&M scored the final five points for the Bearkats and finished the half with 16 of the 32 Bearkat points and led Nebraska 32-27.

According to Bryce McGowens, the Huskers weren’t concerned at the half. The message was simple.

“We’re not going to lose. Especially on our home court again,” McGowens said.

The second half did not begin much better than the first for Nebraska. The second possession of the half for Sam Houston State resulted in five Bearkat points. It began with a goaltend, then a technical foul charged to junior guard Trey McGowens, followed by a second chance bucket for Flagg.

Yet, the Huskers responded. After the five point possession for Sam Houston, Nebraska rattled off six in a row and forced a Bearkat timeout leading 37-33 with 17 minutes remaining in the half.

Freshman forward Wilhelm Breidenbach finished a tough bucket through contact and added a free throw to bring Nebraska within one at 41-40. Sam Houston State bounced back with a quick bucket, a Husker turnover and a runout to push the lead back to five at 45-40. 

Nebraska struck back with another run and this time took the lead. Nebraska took the lead back 46-45 on Trey McGowens two free-throw makes. With ten minutes left in the game, the Huskers clung to a two point lead 51-49 on an 11-4 run that featured a 3-point play by Andre.

“Trey has been phenomenal, especially in the leadership category,” Hoiberg said. “He’s been our vocal leader out there trying to keep guys together when things aren’t going so well.”

A 5-0 solo scoring run by Verge Jr. gave the Huskers a 57-53 lead. Moments later, Nebraska took its largest lead of the game at 65-57 on a corner 3-pointer by Bryce McGowens with 4:26 left in the game.

That lead for the Huskers would hold over the final four minutes. Bryce McGowens had the only notable play of the final four minutes. Inside the final minute, Verge Jr. forced a turnover, but, on the break to the basket it was poked away. The ball went sailing but trailing the play was the younger McGowens who went airborne for the unintended alley-oop slam. 

“I don’t think it was actually an Oop, I think it was just in the air,” Bryce McGowens said. “I told him ‘I’m trailing. I’m trailing’, happened to get on the backboard and the rest is history.”

McGowens would add the final two Husker points of the second half en route to a 74-65 Husker victory. McGowens finished with 29 points and five rebounds while Verge Jr. scored 13 points and added seven assists. Flagg put up a valiant double-double effort for the Bearkats, scoring 31 points with 11 rebounds.

“It really was an efficient night for Bryce,” Hoiberg said. “You can see his confidence grow throughout this game and hopefully we can carry this over and continue to get better and better.”

The Huskers made nearly an 18% improvement in shooting percentage from half to half and went 19-of-23 at the free throw line in the second half. For Hoiberg, that improvement from the field mostly came down to ball movement.

“Sometimes human nature with a new group of guys when the ball isn’t going in the hoop is to try to do it yourself,” Hoiberg said. “To go out there and share the ball much better in the second half resulted in some really good possessions.”

The first half wasn’t Nebraska’s best tonight. The second had some things to improve on too. But, Nebraska is 1-1 and heading into a major non-conference showdown with in-state rival Creighton, Hoiberg knows there are better days ahead for this offense.

“We’re gonna blow the lid off this thing,” Hoiberg said. “We’ve got too many weapons. We’ve got too many shooters.”

sports@dailynebraskan.com