Nebraska freshman guard Bryce McGowens began Tuesday night’s game against Northwestern chasing history.
The Huskers’ leading scorer was eight points shy of the school's freshman scoring record of 445 points held by former Husker center Dave Hoppen. It took McGowens nearly 27 minutes to do it but he finally claimed the title of Nebraska’s leading freshman scorer.
McGowens has been on an electric run as of late.
The freshman was coming off a 25-point performance in Nebraska’s loss to Maryland on Friday, his fourth such output this season. No other freshman in the Big Ten averages more than 10 points and five rebounds per game and McGowens seems set to become the seventh Nebraska freshman in program history to average double digits.
Nebraska men’s basketball head coach Fred Hoiberg had plenty of praise for McGowens’ impressive freshman season.
“To improve the way he has over the course of the season says everything about Bryce and his work ethic and his growth,” Hoiberg said postgame.
McGowens picked up his seventh Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor on Monday, tying his team’s overall win count. Despite his best efforts, McGowens couldn’t change that stat on Tuesday. Nebraska was anemic at the outset and, although it played well in spurts, could not get it done in a 77-65 road loss to the Northwestern Wildcats.
“That’s all it takes, those 3-4 minute stretches that we continue to talk about after these games,” Hoiberg said. “But you know we kept competing and we fought all the way.”
The same old issues plagued Nebraska in the opening minutes. Turnovers, transition breakdowns and other Husker miscues helped the Wildcats build a 15-7 lead with 13:20 to play in the first half. After the belated media timeout, Northwestern scored a pair of buckets to make it 19-7 with 10:38 to go.
The run grew to 9-3 and the lead to 14 points as Nebraska continued to opt for 1-on-1 offense. The only saving grace was an incredibly deep 3-pointer by McGowens to make it 24-13. The Huskers cut it down to single digits, but a 3-pointer from Northwestern junior guard Chase Audige put the Wildcats ahead 34-23 with 3:21 to play.
Senior guard Alonzo Verge Jr. kept the Huskers in the game. He scored back-to-back layups to bring his scoring total to 10 in just 4:30 of game action. Leading 34-27, Northwestern came out of a timeout with a 3-pointer but Nebraska responded with consecutive buckets, including a beautiful give-and-go between senior guard Kobe Webster and junior forward Derrick Walker.
All things considered, this first half was much better for the Huskers than the last time they played the Wildcats. Instead of staring down a 22-point deficit, Nebraska was down 37-31. The Huskers were winning the rebounding battle, had allowed three fewer 3-pointers and were outscoring Northwestern in the paint.
“I thought we ended the first half beautifully,” Hoiberg said. “Hit nine of our last 13 to crawl back in.”
Still, the Huskers put themselves behind the 8-ball early in the first half.
Nebraska began the second half with another bucket in the paint, this time by junior forward Lat Mayen. Then the Wildcats regained control. A 9-0 run for Northwestern pushed the lead back to 13 at 46-33. Soon after, McGowens made history.
Off of a steal by freshman guard CJ Wilcher, McGowens cut to the hoop along the baseline and got a fortuitous roll to snap a 39-year old record. Besides that, the Huskers did not have a lot going for them. Northwestern senior forward Pete Nance stood all alone at the top of the key and canned a wide open 3-pointer, giving the Wildcats their largest lead of the game yet at 60-43.
Nebraska couldn’t get stops as Northwestern knifed through the lane with ease and worked the perimeter for wide-open 3-pointers. With 7:29 left, Northwestern had taken a 19-point lead. To the Huskers’ credit, they managed to get within nine of the Wildcats in the final two minutes but the shortcomings at the beginning of each half were too much to overcome.
Leading the way for Nebraska were McGowens and Verge who each had 15 points. Webster provided solid minutes off the bench, scoring 13 and was the only other Husker in double figures. Nance scored 20 for Northwestern while Audige and junior guard Boo Buie each had 15. Nebraska surrendered the same amount of 3-pointers as the first matchup despite the improved opening half.
“Three point line again was the story in the first game and the story again tonight,” Hoiberg said.
Next up for the Huskers are the Iowa Hawkeyes who have won five of the last six games and just beat Nebraska 98-75. The Hawkeyes also bested Michigan State 86-60 on Tuesday and are playing some of their best basketball at the right time. Hoiberg hopes to make the home finale meaningful.
“Just about coming home and hopefully giving our fans one last game to hopefully cheer about and feel good about,” Hoiberg said. “Give our seniors something to remember.”