Three times in the final 16 seconds, Minnesota had a chance to tie the game against Nebraska on Tuesday night. Three times, the Gophers couldn’t knock down a game-tying three-pointer and the Huskers scraped by once again thanks to a suffocating defense.
Andre Hollins, Carlos Morris, and DeAndre Mathieu each saw their three-point attempts miss in the final seconds as Nebraska came away with a 52-49 win over Minnesota at the Pinnacle Bank Arena. The Huskers’ defense helped them overcome another sluggish offensive performance as Nebraska (11-7, 3-3) held Minnesota (12-8, 1-6) to just 30.8% shooting from the field and forced 16 Gopher turnovers. However, Nebraska couldn’t pull away and saw their own offense struggle in a whistle-heavy game that saw a combined 43 personal fouls and technical fouls on the Huskers’ Walter Pitchford and Shavon Shields in the second half.
Although the win wasn’t pretty, Nebraska head coach Tim Miles was happy his team was able to grind out another Big Ten victory.
“We couldn’t even make free throws tonight, either team couldn’t,” Miles said. “But our crowd loved it. They love that Blackshirt defense. I don’t know what we are, but I’m glad they’re cheering for us.”
Shields scored 13 of his team-high 15 points in the second half in addition to seven rebounds to help Nebraska scratch out their third win in their last four games. Terran Petteway didn’t score for the final 18:29 of the contest, but finished with 11 points as Nebraska committed 15 turnovers of their own and shot 40.5% from the floor.
Overall, it was probably not the most aesthetically pleasing performance, but Petteway says a win counts no matter how it happens.”
“Ugly,” Petteway said of the victory. “We did some good things in that game, and we did some bad things in that game, but we will take it. We have to build on this. Now is the time we have to make our run.”
Nebraska’s offense was not pretty, but it did get little contributions up and down its roster, such as Walter Pitchford’s six points and 11 rebounds, Tarin Smith’s six points and three rebounds in 29 minutes of action, and Benny Parker’s 6-for-6 performance at the free throw line in the second half with the game on the line.
Petteway’s first three-pointer of the game, early in the first half, put him above the 1,000 career-point mark. The junior from Galveston, Texas, scored just 88 points during his freshman season with Texas Tech, but has now scored 920 points with Nebraska for a running total of 1,008.
“It’s just 1,000 points,” Petteway said of the accomplishment. “I’ll be happy when we get some wins, like a Big Ten championship, or in a tournament.”
A big reason for Nebraska’s defensive success, especially in the second half, was the play of sophomore guard Tai Webster. Webster, who’d only played a combined 12 minutes in Nebraska’s three previous games, was instrumental in slowing down Hollins in the second half. Webster played 16 minutes on Tuesday night and finished with two points and three rebounds.
“Tai Webster coming off the bench really did a good job on him. I really commend Tai,” Miles said. “He had practiced really well on the scout team. He hadn’t even practiced with the top guys.”
“I just liked his body language in practice, and I liked his pace. I thought he was more aggressive and felt better.”
Neither team led by double figures as it proved to be a defensive struggle throughout. Nebraska held its largest lead at 15-7 after Tai Webster’s lay up in transition with 11:36 remaining in the first half. Minnesota would respond however, with a better close to the first half, as the Gophers took a 25-24 lead into halftime. Five of Minnesota’s eight made field goals in the first 20 minutes were three pointers, with four of them coming from Hollins who finished with a game-high 21 points. The two teams would trade sporadic baskets throughout much of the second half, although Nebraska was unable to make a field goal in the final 8:01 and relied on 11 free throws to get the victory.
The loss drops Minnesota to 1-6 in league play, with five of their six losses coming by a combined 16 points. It was another frustrating loss for Minnesota and head coach Richard Pitino.
“I thought with this game, more than anything, we were executing really well and getting some open looks,” Pitino said. “I think we have to shore up our free throws.”
“Really can’t miss ten free throws like that on the road and expect to win.”
Pitchford picked up a technical foul with 13:28 remaining after officials ruled he had pushed DeAndre Mathieu down out-of-bounds after the whistle had blown. Shields would pick up his technical at the 8:51 mark after reacting to being called for a personal foul. The Gophers wouldn’t trail by more than six the rest of the way and trimmed the deficit to 43-42 after Joey King’s jumper with 4:32 remaining. But the Nebraska defense held strong and Parker and Shields provided big free throws to give the Huskers just enough breathing room.
The freshman Smith saw the most extensive playing time of his young career and helped stabilize a Nebraska offense that struggled to break Minnesota’s constant full-court pressure and double-teaming in the first half. Smith says for the most part, they were able to handle pressure from the Gophers.
“I thought we dealt with it pretty well. At the beginning, it was a little shaky, but I thought as the game went on we got better,” Smith said. “We started attacking a lot better.”
Smith also sang the praises of the defense, who held another Big Ten opponent to under 50 points for the third straight time at the Pinnacle Bank Arena. The Huskers also held Rutgers and Illinois to 49 and 43 points, respectively.
“I thought we did a good job on the screens and helping on the screens. I thought that was pretty big. They were throwing a lot of ball screens,” Smith noted. “They ran a lot of off-ball screens for their shooters. I think that was big.”
Eight different Huskers scored in the game, with 12 of their 17 made field goals coming on assists. While Nebraska struggled early at the foul line, they finished 14-of-21 for the game while Minnesota was an abysmal 9-of-19. Nebraska continues Big Ten play at home when they host Michigan State on Saturday at 3 p.m. Minnesota returns home to Minneapolis to host Illinois on Saturday at 1:15 p.m.