Nebraska men’s basketball extended its longest winning streak of head coach Fred Hoiberg’s tenure to four games, handling South Dakota 83-70 on Saturday at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
South Dakota went blow-for-blow with the Huskers in the first half and held a lead as great as six points at multiple points, but a 15-0 second half run ultimately helped Nebraska over the top, controlling the contest as the game wore down.
From here, things only get harder for the Huskers. After facing just one team ranked in the top 100 according to kenpom.com over its first six games, Nebraska faces five consecutive top-100 opponents following Saturday’s game.
The good news, though, is that Nebraska did multiple things well on Saturday in an effort to build momentum for those contests. Here are three takeaways from the Husker victory:
Tominaga sparks brilliant offensive first half
Few things can stop a Hoiberg offense executing at its peak, which South Dakota found out in the first half of Saturday’s contest.
Nebraska really kicked things into high gear following a 18-5 Coyote run that gave the visitors a 21-16 lead with just over 10 minutes remaining in the first half. It was, in truth, reminiscent of Tuesday’s game against Tennessee State in which Nebraska instantly gave away an early lead. Following a hot start, the Husker offense was again sputtering at an alarming rate.
Unlike Tuesday, though, the Huskers were able to nip said inefficiency in the bud thanks in large part to the efforts of sophomore guard Keisei Tominaga.
Call it coincidence or fate, but after Tominaga checked into the contest with 10:09 remaining in the first half, Nebraska’s offense took off.
Suddenly, staples of the Hoiberg only seen in passing so far this season were featured on nearly every possession. Tempo, quick ball movement, frequent off-ball cuts leading to easy baskets — South Dakota had no answers for it. Tominaga had two great feeds of his own to junior forward Derrick Walker, who calmly finished at the rim both times.
Perhaps the best action came with 2:19 in the first half with Nebraska up 34-33. Following a two-minute scoring drought from both squads, junior forward Lat Mayen picked up the ball at the top of the key. Tominaga, on the right wing, completely shook his man with a backdoor cut and Mayen hit him in stride for a layup, extending the Huskers’ lead to 36-33.
The Huskers closed the half on a 20-6 run, a run saw Tominaga score 10 of his 13 first-half points. 10 of Nebraska’s 14 first-half field goals were assisted, and Tominaga finished the opening 20 minutes with a team-high plus/minus of 13.
Nebraska’s best offensive half of the season set the tone for its 83-point performance in Saturday’s win, the Huskers’ highest point total of the regular season. Tominaga, in his best performance to date in a Nebraska uniform, dropped 23 points on 8-of-11 shooting and 5-of-6 from the 3-point line.
3-point shooting, finally
Something had to give at the perimeter on Saturday.
South Dakota entered the game with the No. 333 3-point defense in the country, according to kenpom.com. It had allowed opponents to shoot over a 40% clip from deep so far this season.
Nebraska, meanwhile, entered Saturday as one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in college basketball, ranking No. 319 nationally with a team average of 26.6%. The Huskers hadn’t eclipsed the 40% mark from distance all season.
In the battle of stoppable force versus moveable object, Nebraska’s 3-point shooting was able to shine through in its best long-range shooting performance so far this season. Going 9-of-23 from 3-point range won’t light the world on fire, but it’s certainly an improvement from absolute clunkers seen pretty frequently this season.
Tominaga certainly led the way, but freshman guard Bryce McGowens knocked down multiple 3-pointers as he continues to develop his outside shot at the collegiate level. His 22 points were certainly a storyline perhaps underscored by Tominaga’s efforts, but was vital nonetheless.
Outside of McGowens and Tominaga, freshman guard CJ Wilcher and senior guard Kobe Webster each knocked down a 3-pointer, rounding out the team total of nine.
It was far from perfect, and there were still several forced looks, but Saturday provided a nice confidence boost that will hopefully provide the Huskers with a step in the right direction following a sluggish shooting start.
Walker continues impressive run in the paint
Hoiberg-led offenses aren’t typically known for featuring a traditional big man so heavily, but it’s an added bonus when a player that fits such an archetype is so effective.
Enter Walker, one of the Huskers’ most critical players and a crucial spark to Nebraska’s current winning streak. Walker, over Nebraska’s last four games, is 25-of-27 from the field and had 13 points in the team’s win over South Dakota.
“[Derrick] gets us baskets when we need ‘em,” Hoiberg said postgame. “He’s doing a great job rolling to the rim, different guys are finding him now. Bryce is finding him, Keisei found him a couple of times today, he’s been a big presence for us out there.”
Nebraska is an impressive 57.2% on 2-pointers this year, the No. 29 mark in the country, and Walker is a huge reason why. If the Huskers can find success in the paint against higher-level opponents in the coming weeks, it should be a fantastic indicator of how successful Nebraska will be in conference play.