Verge Jr. 11.23

Nebraska’s Alonzo Verge Jr. (1) runs with the ball during the game against Tennessee State at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

It was extremely painstaking, but Nebraska men’s basketball managed its third consecutive win on Tuesday night in a 79-73 victory over Tennessee State.

The Huskers looked like they’d run away with the contest in the game’s opening minutes, building a 13-3 lead within the first four, but Tennessee State responded and truly gave Nebraska a fight for the 40 minutes.

Despite a close game against, talent-wise, a vastly inferior opponent, head coach Fred Hoiberg made enough second-half adjustments to ultimately get Nebraska over the finish line and avoid another shocking upset.

Here are three takeaways from the win: 

Tennessee State’s hilariously effective first half

Despite being the No. 323 team in Division I according to kenpom.com and boasting the 329th-most efficient offense, the Tigers had a peculiar strength that was an interesting storyline to track entering Tuesday night’s contest.

Tennessee State, from 3-point range, shot an impressive 38.1% as a team — good for No. 62 in the country. Before Tuesday, though, the Tigers hadn’t played a top-200 team nationally according to kenpom.com. Translating that clip against a Husker squad that defends the 3-pointer at an above-average rate could’ve proved an intimidating challenge for the Tigers.

Only it wasn’t. In fact, the Tigers seemingly couldn’t miss from behind the arc in the first half.

After Tennessee State responded to an early Nebraska scoring run, outside shooting helped the Tigers go punch-for-punch with their Big Ten foe. Each time Nebraska would attempt to seize the lead back early on, Tennessee State responded with a backbreaking 3-pointer.

Junior guard Dedric Boyd, in particular, was electric from long range. By half’s end, he had 16 points on 5-of-8 from behind the arc. Three of those came in the final three minutes of the first half, each in a manner more devastating than the last. 

With the game tied at 29 with 2:52 left in the first half, Boyd launched a triple from the top of the key that found the back of the rim, careened directly upwards and then fell through the net. On Tennessee State’s next possession, he hit a 3-pointer from the wing and was fouled by Nebraska freshman guard CJ Wilcher. 

Then, to close the first half, Boyd hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give the visitors a shocking 41-38 halftime lead. In total, the Tigers knocked down a staggering 10 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes. 35 of Tennessee State’s 41 first half points came either at the free-throw line or from 3-point range.

Nebraska eventually shored things up defensively in the second half, limiting Tennessee State to 3-of-14 from deep, but the Tigers’ first-half shooting performance was both extremely impressive and, admittedly, fun to watch.

Alonzo Verge back to playmaking ways

Following Nebraska’s 82-59 victory over Southern, senior guard Alonzo Verge Jr. said that improving the team’s ball movement starts with him.

Nebraska certainly wasn’t firing on all cylinders offensively against Tennessee State, but Verge at least held up his end of the bargain with a season-high total in assists. Verge did take a couple of ill-advised shots against the Tigers, but on the whole was dynamic, creative and most importantly vital in helping the Huskers stave off another devastating upset.

He and junior forward Derrick Walker continued to flash their obvious chemistry, as five of Verge’s career-high 10 assists resulted in easy finishes for Walker around the rim. Walker, to his credit, posted an impressive 16 points on 7-of-7 shooting, continuing to improve his touch and finesse around the basket with another stellar performance from the field.

For Verge, though, the performance was no-doubt a useful one given his status as one of the team’s primary ball handlers. After posting 12 assists combined in his previous three outings, reaching double-digit assists should boost the Arizona State transfer’s confidence in Hoiberg’s offensive scheme. 

The Huskers finished Tuesday’s game with 18 assists on 28 made field goals. It’s an assist-turnover rate similarly seen in previous games, but posting those sort of numbers consistently is a good sign for where Nebraska’s at offensively.

Nebraska might not be able to out-rebound anyone

Aside from the final score, one of the more disconcerting things to arise from Tuesday’s game is the Huskers’ continued inability to hold a significant advantage on the glass. 

The Tigers, which entered Tuesday’s game with the No. 187 offensive rebounding rate and No. 296 defensive rate according to kenpom.com, held an advantage in both categories over the Huskers. The Tigers held a slim 36-35 advantage in total rebounds, an 11-6 advantage in offensive rebounds and notched 11 second-chance points to Nebraska’s nine. 

Walker and freshman guard Bryce McGowens combined to lead Nebraska with six rebounds, and the rebounding distribution was spread rather evenly. Still, if Nebraska cannot out-rebound the Tennessee States of the world, the Huskers will be in for yet another rude awakening come Big Ten play. 

Hoiberg said postgame that his team’s rebounding was “improving,” and that he thinks his team is more physical than it was earlier in the season. Nebraska’s development on the glass very well could come to fruition as the season progresses, but for now it could cause problems in future contests if not improved against power-conference foes. 

sports@dailynebraskan.com