Nebraska Men's Basketball vs Minnesota Photo No. 12

Nebraska's Sam Griesel (5) dunks in a tight game against Minnesota at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Saturday was pure spectacle at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

Whether it was junior guard Keisei Tominaga’s parents bowing to the crowd, coveted five-star football recruit Dylan Raiola throwing the proverbial bones, or head football coach Matt Rhule emphatically pumping his fists on the jumbotron, the sellout crowd had plenty to cheer for. Oh yeah, and Nebraska’s fourth-straight home win (and fourth-straight win overall). 

It was far from a perfect showing, but the Huskers’ 78-67 victory over Minnesota was a reminder of the tenacious nature of this version of Nebraska basketball. Despite all the injuries they’ve faced— including losing another key contributor this week — the Huskers improved to 15-14 on Saturday, the first time a Fred Hoiberg-led team has been above .500 this late into February. 

“I can’t believe how fast this has gone,” Nebraska head coach Fred Hoiberg said of the season postgame. “Some years feel like two years. This thing has just flown by." 

After losing six of seven games just a month ago, the past six games may seem a whirlwind for Nebraska. The Huskers found considerable success as underdogs over that stretch, but on Saturday, it was their turn to be the favorite — and they certainly looked like one.  

Nebraska wasted no time jumping out to an early lead, one it never rescinded. Spurred on by a near-perfect start from freshman guard Jamarques Lawrence, who scored 10 points in the first 10 minutes, the Huskers jumped out to an early 27-16 lead. 

Tominaga nabbed three of his four total steals in the first eight minutes, foreshadowing an impressive team defensive performance. Nebraska forced 19 turnovers on the afternoon, 13 of which were steals, and cashed them in for 21 points, ultimately the difference in the game. 

“I thought we had really good, physical chest-to-chest double teams when we came with hands,” Hoiberg said. “That’s what created some deflections, and that’s what got us out into transition, and that’s what built us a little bit of a lead early in the game.”

The Huskers also found a massive advantage in the paint, despite being without sophomore forward Blaise Keita who has produced solid rebounding numbers recently but re-aggravated an ankle injury last weekend. Against the towering Golden Gophers — who feature four starters taller than six-foot-seven — sophomore forward Wilhelm Breidenbach and redshirt freshman forward Oleg Kojenets were forced into action as additional big men. 

However, it was senior guard Sam Greisel who made the biggest difference in the paint, regularly knocking down contested layups. He finished with a team-high 19 points and took the game into his own hands at multiple junctures 

The Golden Gophers made it a priority to slow down Tominaga and senior forward Derrick Walker, Nebraska’s two biggest point producers, but that allowed the rest of the roster to shine. Six Huskers scored in double digits, including redshirt freshman guard Sam Hoiberg, just the second such performance of his career. 

“Any night any of us can have 15-20 points. It does not matter,” Griesel said postgame. “We do not care who gets the credit. All we want is a [win] at the end of the day. That is what is special about this group. 

The fiery start came to an abrupt end, as Nebraska tallied just 12 points in the final 11 minutes of the first half. The Huskers scored four points over a seven-minute stretch, their shots refusing to fall. However, Minnesota couldn't take advantage of the dry spell and only narrowed its deficit to 10 points at the half. Nebraska went into the locker room leading 37-27 but lacked the surging momentum they found early.  

The Huskers' shooting woes continued into the second frame, and they hit just one field goal in the first four minutes out of the break. This time, Minnesota found its footing and pulled within six points, 40-34, with 16:12 remaining thanks to back-to-back baskets from freshman forward Joshua Ola-Joseph. 

With 14:15 left in the contest, Tominaga hit his first and only 3-pointer of the afternoon to extend Nebraska’s lead to 46-36. The shot lit up PBA and gave Nebraska a much-needed jolt. 

Gresiel hit a 3-pointer with 11:28 remaining in the second half then Sam Hoiberg scored a tough and-one layup and the accompanying free throw to push the Husker advantage to 52-38. It seemed like that stretch would stifle Minnesota’s last gasp for air, but the Gophers had other ideas. The next four minutes brought an offensive explosion from both sides. 

Junior forward Jamison Battle hit his third 3-pointer of the afternoon and junior guard Ta’Lon Cooper followed with another to make it 52-44. Griesel responded with a signature contested layup, but Minnesota knocked down yet another 3-pointer at the other end. 

“The thing that I've been most impressed with this group is they just don’t panic,” Fred Hoiberg said. “We had an opportunity to put it away a couple times, but Minnesota hit a few threes…but we came down and we executed.”

An emphatic Griesel dunk brought Husker fans to their feet as he pumped his hands in the air, but it did little to dishearten the Gophers. Five straight points, including another shot from deep, brought the visitors within six points with 7:28 remaining. That would be as close as they would get, though. 

“We could never just get that one or two consecutive stops,” Minnesota head coach Ben Johnson said postgame. “We would get one, but we couldn't get two or the third.”

With Nebraska leading 66-59, Sam Hoiberg grabbed an offensive rebound and a steal on the same possession before scoring a contested layup to all but ice the game. He also hustled for a loose ball down the stretch to earn a trip to the charity stripe, the third time the coach’s son has made critical plays in the waning moments in recent weeks. 

The final buzzer sounded, marking the Husker’s fifth win in their past six outings. The 78-67 victory over the Gophers culminated in raucous applause from the fans in attendance, who seemed primed to explode all afternoon long. 

Nebraska has two days off before welcoming Michigan State on Tuesday for senior night, potentially PBA’s last chance to serenade Walker and Greisel, unless the Huskers should sneak their way into hosting an NIT game.