The Huskers have played themselves into games with effort and game planning. That was evident in the games against Indiana and Purude. It was also clear in Tuesday’s 76-70 win over Iowa(10-5, 1-3 Big Ten).
“The guys went out and really bought into the game plan and believed in it,” said coach Fred Hoiberg. “We felt our only chance of winning this game was to sit two or three bodies in the paint at all times and then close out to the shooters. We did a good job of that.”
Nebraska(7-8, 2-2 Big Ten) jumped out 7-0 lead on the shorthanded Hawkeyes who were missing CJ Fredrick and Jordan Bohannon. Fredrick averages 10.3 points a game while shooting 50-percent from three, a key shooter that would have helped Iowa.
After falling behind early, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery too issue with how his big, Luka Garza, was being treated under the basket. McCaffery earned a Technical from the officials, but that would spark a 7-0 for the Hawkeyes to tie the game. Nebraska then used runs of 8-0, 6-0, and 8-0 to lead by as much as 12 before ending the first half with a 38-31 lead.
The 6’11 big Garza was averaging 33 points a game in the conference so far this season, but had just nine at the break. The Hawkeyes, meanwhile, were shooting 2-of-19 from deep, despite a clear size advantage.
“They weren’t in the rhythm, and we were making shots,” said Thoir Thorbjarnarson. “I think our emphasis on letting certain guys shoot and packing the paint, closing out the guards, I think the game plan went perfectly.”
It only took Iowa just over seven minutes in the second half to double their made threes for the game and take their first lead of the contest at 51-50. Kevin Cross made a pair of free throws just 38 seconds later and the Hawkeyes would never retake the lead.
Things did get close when the Hawkeyes turned to the hack-a-Husker strategy. Nebraska shot just 5-for-12 from the free throw line in the final two minutes, but Iowa never got closer than four as the Huskers held on to win 76-70.
Nebraska finished the game making 10 threes, shooting 38.5-percent from deep and 49.1-percent from the field. Iowa was ice cold throughout the game, shooting 4-for-33 from beyond the arc while making 41.6-percent from the field.
“I do think we settled a few times in the second half without working the ball around,” said McCaffery. “But I always tell my guys, ‘If you’re open, shoot the ball.’ I want [the players to have] complete confidence. I thought we had a couple looks in the second half where we shot it as an afterthought, even though we were still open. You don’t shoot those; you move those, especially with time on the clock.”
The Hawkeyes did score 52 points in the paint. This is the second game in a row Nebraska has given up more than 50 in the point, but this ended with a win.
Five Huskers scored in double-digits, with Thorbjarnarson leading the way with 17 points and nine rebounds.
“I love playing with Thor,” said Cam Mack. “His energy. He moves without the ball. He’s just so positive and just brings the energy.”
Mack had another double-double with 15 points and 10 assists. Haanif Cheatham scored 14 points while Dachon Burke Jr. and Kevin Cross added 13 and 11 points, respectively.
Iowa’s Garza was held to 16 points, but he did end with a double-double as he grabbed 18 rebounds. The Hawkeyes were led by Joe Wieskamp who scored 21 points on 10-of-23 shooting, including 1-of-10 from three.
“Iowa’s a heck of a team,” said Hoiberg “They got a guy playing as well as anyone in the country. Not just our league I mean in the country with Garza. And then Wieskamp is a load. He is as versatile as anyone in Big Ten. They got role players that go out there and do exactly what they are supposed to do. For us to bounce back against a really good team and get this one is important.”
Jervay Green did not play in the game, a decision by the coaching staff, according to Hoiberg. Green missed the Indiana and Purdue games while on a suspension. Those were two of the better games that Nebraska has played this season.
With Green out, freshman walk-on Charlie Easley saw a career-high 16 minutes of game time. Easley took advantage of that time making hustle plays throughout the night, with none being bigger than a loose ball that he grabbed a called a timeout with 7:39 to go and Nebraska up by just three.
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“That play where he dove on the floor was the loudest it got in the building all night,” said Hoiberg. “But Charlie although he didn’t hit his shots I thought had a huge impact on that win and again just made unbelievable hustle plays out there.”
Hoiberg improved to 5-1 in his head coaching career against Iowa, including his 4-1 record against the Hawkeyes as Iowa State’s head coach.
Nebraska will now play four of the next five on the road, beginning January 11 at Northwestern(5-8, 0-3 Big Ten).