Nebraska men’s basketball has officially transcended into rare form, both under head coach Fred Hoiberg and within the context of college basketball history.
Before Sunday, it had been 50 years since a 20-loss Division I basketball team beat consecutive ranked opponents on the road. Hoiberg himself had just one road win in his Husker tenure just eight days ago.
With Sunday’s utterly stunning 74-73 victory over No. 10 Wisconsin, the outright Big Ten regular season champions as of Sunday afternoon, the Huskers picked up their history-making second consecutive road victory over a Top 25 opponent. Perhaps more amazingly, Nebraska cemented its longest regular-season Big Ten winning streak since 2018 entirely away from Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Sunday’s miraculous team effort at the Kohl Center felt like an exorcism of years and years of past failures in real time. Hoiberg’s team simply didn’t win games like that in season’s past — especially given what it had to overcome to pull off the upset.
Here are four takeaways from Nebraska’s 10th and final victory over the regular season:
Alonzo Verge Jr. leads incredible team effort
The Huskers could’ve easily folded when dealt with unfortunate circumstances in a hostile road environment. Hoiberg said as much postgame on Big Ten Network.
After all, Nebraska played without the potential Big Ten Freshman of the Year in freshman guard Bryce McGowens against the Badgers, saw junior guard Trey McGowens ejected from the contest early in the second half and overcame multiple interesting officiating decisions.
One moment in particular stands out. After a driving layup to tie the game at 49 with 16:03 remaining, Husker senior guard Alonzo Verge Jr. was assessed a technical foul. The officiating decision seemed stark, and replays of the incident didn’t paint a much clearer picture. Verge glanced at the official following the basket, seemingly unhappy about not receiving a foul call, and received a technical.
Wisconsin promptly turned the sequence into four points while the technical foul was Verge’s fourth of the contest. It sparked an 8-0 Wisconsin scoring run as the Badgers eventually built an advantage as great as 62-52 with 12:19 remaining.
With four fouls, Hoiberg opted to re-insert Verge with 11:05 remaining. He led a Nebraska push that cut Wisconsin’s lead to four points, but Badger senior guard Brad Davison gave Wisconsin a 71-62 advantage with a huge 3-pointer with 5:48 remaining. Then, Verge exploded.
A Verge steal led to a basket in transition for freshman guard CJ Wilcher, then the Arizona State transfer got to the rim for a layup. Verge made consecutive free throws, then put Nebraska ahead 72-71 with 1:50 remaining on a huge step-back 3-pointer. Following a Husker defensive stand that featured strong interior defense on junior forward Tyler Wahl, Verge made two free throws with 37 seconds remaining.
When the dust settled, Verge had near-singlehandedly willed Nebraska on a 12-0 scoring run that spanned over five minutes – nine of those points coming from Verge himself. Hoiberg called his performance “unbelievable,” and his final numbers certainly paint that picture. Verge finished with 26 points on 10-of-16 from the field, routinely beating every defender that Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard assigned to him.
Things like this just didn’t happen to Nebraska in seasons past. Too often, an unexpectedly close game would ultimately be squandered by a comedy of painfully predictable errors. Over the course of the Huskers’ unprecedented winning streak, they’ve finally put it all together.
On the flip side
Trey McGowens’ ejection served as the other major controversy in Sunday’s contest.
He was assessed a flagrant two following a skirmish with Badger sophomore guard Johnny Davis in which he made inadvertent contact with Davis’ head/neck area. That occurred with 17:32 remaining in the contest, leaving the Huskers without their primary defender for the decisive stretch of play.
Officiating decisions aside, the dustup also put Davis out for the remainder of the contest. Wisconsin’s talisman had 10 points on 4-of-4 from the field prior to exiting the game and would’ve no-doubt been featured heavily for the Badgers down the stretch as the teams went back-and-forth.
Through a combination of stout Husker defense and Wisconsin’s inability to produce offense without Davis, the second half was a struggle. The Badgers’ only saving grace was at the free-throw line, where Wisconsin went 17-of-20 in the second half alone. Otherwise, Wisconsin shot 9-for-29 from the field and 2-of-13 from 3-point range over the final 20 minutes.
What’s more, Wisconsin closed the game going 0-for-9 in its last nine field goal attempts and 2-for-13 in its last 13. The Badgers didn’t make a field goal for the last 5:48 of game time which, Davis or not, is spectacular.
Nebraska also displayed a fair bit of zone defense in the second half, which Hoiberg credited when noting Nebraska’s overall defensive effort, but Sunday’s loss could prove extremely problematic for Wisconsin moving forward if Davis is sidelined for an extended period of time.
His absence allowed Nebraska to key in on Davison, who scored 12 second half points but shot just 2-of-9 from the field and 1-of-5 from 3-point range. Seven second-half free throws helped buoy Davison’s overall scoring output. Freshman guard Chucky Hepburn, the hero of Wisconsin’s Tuesday game against Purdue, was similarly unproductive in crunch time, shooting 0-for-5 from the field and 0-for-3 from 3-point range in the second half.
The Huskers were undoubtedly great defensively when it mattered, but they were greatly assisted by no longer having to worry about Davis’ scoring prowess. At any rate, it was enough to knock off the Big Ten Champions and should be commended.
Husker depth shines
The absence of the McGowens brothers provided opportunity for several Huskers to step up, specifically in the backcourt.
Sophomore guard Keisei Tominaga, who hadn’t logged more than 10 minutes in a game since Feb. 22 and didn’t play in recent contests against Iowa and Ohio State, was called into a more significant role.
Tominaga had far from the best game of his collegiate career but did log a crucial 12 minutes — plus provided a highlight-worthy drive and finish on Davison in the first half. A minute prior, he was fouled attempting a 3-pointer and made all three attempts from the line. Despite shooting 1-for-7 from the field, Tominaga did record two rebounds and an assist.
Freshman forward Eduardo Andre was again excellent in limited action with four points and two blocks in 14 minutes, while senior guard Kobe Webster chipped in with six points in 29 minutes. Their efforts were sorely needed to complement the ever-steady Wilcher, who had another double-digit scoring performance, and junior forward Derrick Walker’s 15-point effort.
Nebraska had been shorthanded for different points this season, but it had yet to play a game without Bryce McGowens. Without their best player, the Huskers stepped up and delivered an incredible road upset.
Nebraska will look to continue its incredible run of form next week at the 2022 Big Ten Tournament, where the Huskers have yet to win a game in Hoiberg’s tenure. With a potentially healthy Bryce McGowens and the team’s incredible stretch of play, Nebraska represents a team that Big Ten teams certainly aren’t eager to face in Indianapolis.
As the current No. 14 seed, Nebraska’s first opponent as of Sunday night is No. 11 seed Penn State, who knocked Nebraska out of last season’s tournament in the first round. Nebraska thrashed the Nittany Lions on the road last Sunday, pitting a fascinating juxtaposition of recent form and prior history.
The winner of the Nebraska/Penn State game, as of Sunday evening, would then face No. 6 seed Rutgers. Looking ahead is always a futile effort, especially in a chaotic tournament setting, but Nebraska dropped a two-point decision to Rutgers on Jan. 29 in a game the Huskers arguably could’ve won.
Regardless, Nebraska will enter Indianapolis on an incredible heater that few expected it to attain. The Huskers have been shattering any and all expectations over the last week, and the cherry on top would be securing their first Big Ten Tournament win under Hoiberg.