A new starting lineup led to a quick start and a double-digit lead, but the Nebraska men’s basketball team (5-4 overall, 0-1 Big Ten) saw its advantage quickly wiped away as the Huskers were defeated by the Indiana Hoosiers (7-1, 1-0) in Bloomington, 68-55.
Nebraska opened the conference season on the road by starting a miserable 1-16 from 3-point range and scoring 14 fewer points than their previous low-scoring output of 69 in their Nov. 16 loss to Creighton.
Freshman Keisei Tominaga made his first career start in place of freshman Keon Edwards, who played just one minute off the bench. While Tominaga entered this game having made five 3-pointers and averaging 19.5 points in his last two games, he only knocked down his last of five attempts, finishing with just 5 points.
Senior point guard Alonzo Verge led all scorers with 15 points on 6-13 shooting, and added 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 6 turnovers. Freshman star Bryce McGowens was defended into the worst shooting performance of his young career, 8 points on a mere 3-14 overall and 1-5 from deep.
Both Verge and McGowens played a team-high 33 minutes, this after a four-overtime marathon loss at North Carolina State on Wednesday night where they logged 54 and 58 minutes, respectively.
The Huskers jumped on Indiana early, racing to a 16-6 lead fueled by 7 Hoosier turnovers and 6 points from McGowens, who got long-distance and traditional 3-point plays in the run. Five different Huskers scored, and NU shot 3-3 on free throws, but managed only two more attempts for the rest of the contest.
“We just started missing shots, and a couple of them were bad shots, and those led to transition opportunities,” Nebraska head coach Fred Hoiberg said on the Huskers Radio Network postgame show. “When we had them in the halfcourt, we were as good as we’ve been all year.”
Once Indiana stopped giving the ball away, the Hoosiers took control. From the halfway point of the first half, IU head coach Mike Woodson saw his bench lead a 20-6 run to close the half. Only two of the 20 points were scored by a starter. Little-used freshman Tamar Bates scored 11 of his 13 points before the break, including 3-5 from beyond the arc. Bates had made just 6 3-pointers over Indiana’s first 7 games.
Trayce Jackson-Davis, an All-Big Ten performer, started slow but finished with 14 points, 7 boards, 4 blocks, and 3 steals. Race Thompson added a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
The Hoosiers stretched their lead to as many as 15 in the second half, but Nebraska fought back to within 7 at 53-46 with 6:00 remaining. Freshman Wilhelm Breidenbach converted a 3-point play, senior Kobe Webster and junior Derrick Walker each scored baskets, and freshman CJ Wilcher knocked down a 3-pointer, finally ending Nebraska’s 1-16 spell from downtown.
That was as close as the Huskers would get, as Indiana answered with a 10-3 run of its own, making the lead insurmountable at 63-49 with 3:05 to go.
While Nebraska shot 5-22 overall from long range, the Huskers hit 4-6 at the end when things were mostly out of reach. All those earlier misses piled up and sealed their fate. “We had some good looks. Unfortunately they just weren’t falling,” Hoiberg said. “I’m not sure if it was legs from the long game earlier this week. With our cuts we just have to be more forceful on them, have a purpose.”
Indiana point guard Xavier Johnson scored all 8 of his points in the second half, including 6-6 from the line. Johnson, a Pitt transfer who played with Trey McGowens his freshman year, was committed to Nebraska in early 2018. Johnson, who was recruited by then-Husker assistant Kenya Hunter, decommitted in April 2018 when Hunter left for UConn. Johnson was a double-digit scorer for three seasons at Pitt before transferring to Indiana this spring after being recruited by…you guessed it, Kenya Hunter, now a Hoosier assistant coach.
Nebrasketball hosts Michigan on Tuesday at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.