Nebraska took to the court for a Thanksgiving matchup with Oklahoma on Thursday, but didn’t give Husker fans much to be thankful for, losing 69-56.
The Sooners took an early first-half lead and never faltered. Nebraska overcame multiple double-digit deficits throughout but never got within one score after falling behind 10 minutes into the game.
Nebraska couldn’t stop Oklahoma in the first half and struggled offensively in the second. The Huskers outrebounded the Sooners 35-23, but couldn't cash in second-chance opportunities on the boards. Oklahoma scored eight more points in the paint, an unsurprising statistic considering sophomore forwards Blaise Keita and Wilhelm Breidenbach combined for just six points.
The biggest disparity came from behind the arc, a concerning development for a Nebraska team that leans heavily on 3-pointers. Oklahoma came into Thursday’s matchup shooting just 29% from deep, but shot 45% against the Huskers. In comparison, Nebraska hit only three of 14 3-point attempts. Sophomore guard C.J. Wilcher and junior guard Keisei Tominaga, both billed as sharpshooters, shot a combined 0-5 from three. Nebraska will struggle to win games if they repeat that effort going forward.
The contest got off to a fiery start as both teams scored ten points in the first five minutes. Junior forward Juwan Gary started hot once again for the Huskers, scoring nine of their first 17 points. Both sides traded buckets early, but after being tied 17-17 with 12:26 remaining in the first half, Oklahoma began to pull away.
The Sooners rattled off a 7-0 run, building a lead that Nebraska never usurped. Senior forwards Jacob and Tanner Groves gave Nebraska fits, combining for 22 points in the first half alone. Thankfully for the Huskers, Tanner Groves found himself in foul trouble early. Oklahoma was +12 while he was on the court in the first half.
Senior guard Emmanuel Bandoumel ended the Sooner run with three straight points from a free throw and dunk on a powerful drive to the basket. This brought Nebraska within four, 24-20, but that was the closest it got.
The Groves brothers scored 11 of the Sooners’ next 15 points while the Huskers went cold, extending the Oklahoma lead to 39-26. Bandoumel once again answered with three straight points to give Nebraska some life with 3:38 left in the first half.
This began a 7-0 Husker run, arguably their most impressive stretch of the night. Wilcher drove to the basket for a layup after multiple scrappy offensive rebounds, Bandoumel navigated the baseline and dished to Gary for a score, and Keita administered a monstrous swat for a block. With two minutes remaining in the half, this series of events brought Nebraska within six. Nebraska trailed 41-33 at halftime.
The Sooners scored the first five points of the second half, including a Tanner Groves 3-pointer after his return to the court. But he committed his third foul shortly after which gave Nebraska a spark once again.
On back-to-back Husker possessions, Keita scored his first points and Gary flushed a powerful dunk. This jump-started a 9-3 Nebraska run which narrowed its deficit to 49-43 with 12:56 left in the game. Wilcher scored three of those points, a welcome addition as he struggled to find his rhythm throughout the game.
However, the Huskers fell into a massive scoring drought that lasted over six minutes shortly after. They were still stuck at 43 points with 6:40 left in the contest. Luckily for Nebraska, Oklahoma grappled with its own shooting issues and scored just six points over that same stretch. Wilcher hit a jumper to end the dry spell, but the Sooners led 55-45 entering the final 6:30.
Tanner Groves returned to the court once again, which all but eliminated any hope of a Husker comeback. The Sooners maintained at least a 10-point cushion for the rest of the contest, boosting their advantage to as much as 16. Gary hit a 3-pointer as time expired, but it was too-little-too-late as Nebraska fell to Oklahoma 69-56.
The Huskers shot just 35% from the field and only 11% from deep in the second half compared to 50% and 40%, respectively, in the first. Although, Nebraska’s defense played better after halftime, holding Oklahoma to 28 second-half points was not nearly enough.
Gary and Bandoumel led the way as the only two Huskers to score double-digits, with 16 and 13 points, respectively. After a massive performance in Nebraska’s last contest, Keita was held in check with only four points and five rebounds. His absence on the boards was severely missed.
Nebraska will face either Memphis or Seton Hall on Friday for its second game of the ESPN Events Invitational.