It was never really in doubt for Minnesota in Monday night’s men’s basketball matchup with Nebraska.
Sure, there was a stretch in the second half where the Huskers made things interesting, but head coach Fred Hoiberg’s team could only get as close as seven points of the Golden Gophers. Junior forward Lat Mayen, one of Nebraska’s lone offensive standouts on the night, sank two free throws that cut a once-healthy Minnesota lead to 59-52 with 6:46 remaining, but the Golden Gophers closed the game on a 20-9 run to seal a 79-61 victory.
Minnesota from there sent the Huskers to their seventh consecutive loss. Nebraska has now lost 22 consecutive Big Ten games, with the last one being a victory over Iowa on Jan. 7, 2020.
Here are three takeaways from the defeat:
Without Allen, Nebraska struggles to generate offense
Right before tipoff, the Big Ten Network announced that Nebraska junior guard Teddy Allen would be out for the game against the Golden Gophers due to a “failure to meet internal expectations.”
Replacing Allen’s 17.2 points per game and unique ability to generate his own shot was always going to be a tough task, and it was a task Nebraska failed miserably. For starters, Nebraska’s outside shooting was woeful.
The Huskers shot 36.8% from the field and were even worse from long range, making just three of their 15 attempts. Nebraska failed to make a shot outside of the paint until a Mayen 3-pointer at the 15:30 mark of the second half. Additionally, the Huskers had 18 turnovers to 12 assists and displayed the general lack of offensive continuity expected of a team working its way back from a lengthy pause.
Senior forward Trevor Lakes started in place of Allen and was nearly invisible, failing to record a statistic in his six minutes of play. His most notable moment of Monday’s contest was allowing Minnesota junior guard Gabe Kalscheur to blow by him on the baseline for an and-one layup in the game’s opening minutes.
Mayen and junior guard Shamiel Stevenson were the only Huskers who showed any semblance of offensive quality. Even with a few ill-advised drives and a missed dunk, Stevenson showed his ability to slash to the rim to the tune of 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting. Mayen was Nebraska’s leading scorer with 15 points, aided by his aforementioned three 3-pointers, and tied for the team lead in rebounds with six. Sophomore guard Dalano Banton had another stat-stuffing evening with nine points, five rebounds and six assists.
As a whole, though, Nebraska struggled to knock down open looks and generate any non-paint related offense against Minnesota. While getting quick looks at the basket is a key part of Hoiberg’s offense, some outside consistency is needed in order to keep opposing defenses honest. Allen’s return will help somewhat, but Nebraska needs one or two deep threats to emerge alongside him if the Huskers are to be competitive down the stretch.
Foul trouble, cold shooting keeps Nebraska competitive
Junior guard Marcus Carr and junior center Liam Robbins, arguably Minnesota’s two most important players, found themselves in foul trouble for the majority of Monday’s game.
In the first half, that wasn’t a problem for the Golden Gophers. Carr had eight points and five assists in the game’s early going, helping Minnesota race out to a 23-12 lead within the game’s first seven minutes. This spurt came largely without Robbins, who picked up his second personal foul at the 17:40 mark of the first half. Robbins’ departure undoubtedly allowed Nebraska to generate more offense in the paint, as his 7-foot frame would’ve caused problems for the Huskers.
Carr picked up his third foul with 8:40 remaining in the first half with the Golden Gophers holding a 32-20 lead. Minnesota’s offense, which was rolling up until that point, struggled upon Carr’s second absence. The Golden Gophers scored just 13 points in the final 8:40 of the first half. Robbins committed his third personal foul with 2:56 left before the break, further adding a bittersweet taste to Minnesota’s 45-30 halftime advantage.
In the second half, the absence of Carr and Robbins caught up with Minnesota. The Golden Gophers seemed content with hoisting shots instead of attacking the paint, taking 18 3-pointers in the second half while making just three. Minnesota shot a pedestrian 30% from the field to couple with its abysmal 16.7% mark from 3-point range.
By the time four minutes had passed in the game’s final 20, both Carr and Robbins picked up their fourth fouls. Nebraska was finally able to do what it struggled with in the first half — take advantage of a weakened Minnesota squad. Freshman center Eduardo Andre, who provided a nice spark for the Huskers on Monday, found Mayen for a 3-pointer to cut Minnesota’s lead to single-digits with 13:25 remaining.
As Minnesota continued to sputter and misfire from long range, senior guard Kobe Webster hit a jumper to make Minnesota’s lead 52-45. The Golden Gophers responded by pushing their lead back to 12. Mayen’s free throws were as close as Nebraska got, as Carr took over the game late with 11 points down the stretch. He led all scorers with 21 points, while Robbins had seven points and eight rebounds.
Nebraska’s hellish week doesn’t offer much reprieve
Monday was the beginning of the Huskers’ wild effort to make up every game they missed while on a three-week pause due to a team-wide COVID-19 infection.
Only hours before tipoff, it was announced that Nebraska’s scheduled game against No. 21 Wisconsin on Thursday afternoon would be moved to Wednesday night. The Huskers then added a home matchup with Illinois on Friday, who they were supposed to play on Jan. 13 about a month ago.
Four games in seven days (or five in nine if you include last Saturday’s game against Michigan State) is an insane task made even more difficult by the fact that all of the Huskers’ opponents are either in or currently fighting for NCAA Tournament position. Such is life in the Big Ten, but playing two incredibly talented squads in the Fighting Illini and Badgers with one day of rest is a daunting proposition.
It’s made even more so because, per Big Ten rules, Nebraska must take the day off tomorrow before playing Wisconsin — a mandate Hoiberg called “ridiculous.” Following dates with Illinois and Wisconsin, Nebraska closes the week visiting Penn State on Sunday.
Four games a week may become the new norm as Nebraska races to play every game before the conference tournament. Hoiberg said that he expects it “probably every week” for the rest of the regular season. Overloading a team with games shortly after a lengthy layoff isn’t necessarily conducive to success, or health, night-in and night-out, but it might be the only way the Huskers can complete this season.