Basketball vs. Southern Photo No. 9

Nebraska’s Eduardo Andre (35) hangs off the rim during the game against Southern University at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

4-of-23 from 3-point range.

That is a statistic that would spell doom for most teams in college basketball, and especially for teams coached by Nebraska men’s basketball head coach Fred Hoiberg

Instead, on Sunday afternoon the Huskers cruised to a 82-59 victory over Southern behind 46 points in the paint and an impressive 80% conversion rate from the free-throw line.

“To get 46 points in the paint is very important when that ball isn’t going through the hoop from the perimeter,” Hoiberg said postgame.

The Huskers also continued to improve their ball movement. For senior guard Alonzo Verge Jr., the key to that improvement was simple.

“Me. It starts with me,” Verge, Nebraska’s point guard and primary ball handler, said postgame. “It starts with me getting my teammates involved and getting guys like Bryce going. It was just a struggle the first few real games.”

Verge finished the game with four of the Husker’s 18 assists on 27 total field goals.

Neither team could separate from the other in the opening minutes. But, Nebraska had clear positives in those early moments. 

The Huskers featured much of that improved ball movement as three of their first four scores came off of assists. Freshman guard Bryce McGowens was also much more active. McGowens scored a bucket, snatched three rebounds and recorded an assist early on to put Nebraska ahead 8-4.

“I thought last game was Bryce’s best,” Hoiberg said. “He just continues to grow and get confident in other ways. I thought his attack was great getting to the rim and the line ten times.”

After the opening salvo of scoring, it was a rough stretch for the offenses. At the under-12 media timeout, Nebraska was on a four minute scoring drought in which three possessions ended in turnovers.

For Southern, the scoreless period was a full 90 seconds longer at 5:30. The Jaguars opened the game shooting 2-of-14 from the field and with 11:22 to play in the first half, Nebraska led 10-4. 

“Out of the gate, we stressed that we had to lock up on defense and communicate,” McGowens said postgame. 

Nebraska broke the stretch of offensive ineptitude with back-to-back buckets in the paint set up by fantastic passing. The first was a series where the ball started on the wing in the hands of freshman guard CJ Wilcher who whipped the ball to the top of the key for a high-low bucket by freshman forward Wilhelm Breidenbach. Then, freshman forward Eduardo Andre added a dunk to give Nebraska a 14-4 lead.

The high-low action was the only consistent option for the Huskers in the first half. Whether it was Breidenbach, Andre or junior forward Derrick Walker, the Huskers controlled the paint for most of the first half. Nebraska scored 24 of its 39 first half points in the paint. 

From behind the arc, it was a different and much colder story. Nebraska was 1-of-14 from 3-point range in the first half in large part due to poor shot selection and an inability to capitalize on open opportunities. 

Luckily for Nebraska, the Huskers made a living at the free-throw line in the waning moments of the first half. Nebraska had its first free throws of the game with 5:37 to play in the half. The Huskers went 12-for-13 at the charity stripe to end the half and took a 39-22 lead going into the locker room. 

After two reserved outings this week, McGowens put together an impressive first half against the Jaguars. In 16 minutes of action, McGowens surpassed his combined 12 points in the previous two games by scoring 13 first half points, snagging eight rebounds, two assists and going a perfect 7-for-7 at the line.

Nebraska got Walker into double figures with a pick-and-roll layup to start the second half but then things got ugly. Nebraska turned the ball over four times in the next three minutes of game action and the Jaguars took advantage. Southern went on a 7-0 run, cutting the Husker lead to 41-29 with 16:14 to play.

The Huskers recovered with a 11-2 run over the next three minutes punctuated by a reverse Andre jam to put the Husker lead over 20 points at 52-31 with 13:19 to play. 

Sophomore guard Keisei Tominaga put the game on ice for Nebraska. Tominaga sank a 3-pointer and was fouled with 9:22 remaining in the half. After completing the four point play, he was fouled on another 3-pointer in the same spot and went 2-of-3 at the line to give Nebraska a 65-44 lead. 

Tominaga matched his scoring production of 11 from the Idaho State game and joined three additional Huskers in double figures. Walker had 15 points, Verge had 14 and McGowens bounced back with 18 points, 11 rebounds and four assists in the Husker victory.

“Anytime you see it go in as a shooter, it does wonders for your confidence,” Hoiberg said of Tominaga. “As a guy that went through plenty of slumps, sometimes it just takes that one night to see that thing go through.

Hoiberg also spoke highly of Walker’s play against the Jaguars.

“Derrick’s got great hands and he’s really finishing well and it’s two excellent games in a row for him,” Hoiberg said. “We’re gonna need that when that ball’s not going in.”

Walker’s teammates also had plenty of praise.

“We got D-Walk down there battling and working hard every game so when we get chances like this to get him the ball and feed him we try to get him the ball as much as possible,” Verge said. “We know how much he bangs down there and does all the little things for us.”

Nebraska also won the rebounding battle for the first time this season, a goal that Hoiberg put for his team after Friday’s victory over Idaho State. The Huskers outrebounded the Jaguars by 13, notching 38 rebounds compared to Southern’s 25.

The Huskers also finished with a 24-of-30 mark at the free-throw line.

“Just being able to not be one-dimensional,” McGowens said. “Being able to get to the free-throw line is major especially going into Big Ten play.”

Now Nebraska gets set for its fourth game in seven days when Tennessee State comes to Lincoln on Tuesday night. 

“It’s another one day prep,” Hoiberg said. “A lot of mental preparation for this third one in a short amount of time and hopefully go out and play well and play a complete 40 minutes.”