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Basketball: Northwestern 71, Nebraska 69

NU reverts to old habits late as season ends at tourney

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INDIANAPOLIS – They couldn’t miss for a week. They looked great for a half. But during the final 15 minutes against Northwestern, Nebraska again fell back on its worst habits.

The Huskers’ season ended with Wednesday’s 71-69 loss to Northwestern in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. Sprinting upcourt with a chance to tie, Trey McGowens drove at two defenders and attempted a wild shot off the backboard. The buzzer sounded while he was wrestling for the rebound.

The Huskers walked into Gainbridge Fieldhouse playing their best basketball of the season. But with one half to keep a lofty goal and their season alive, NU struggled to generate offense, secure defensive rebounds and defend the perimeter.

Just like it did most of the season.

“We had a horrible lull there in the second half where we allowed Northwestern to get comfortable,” Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I thought our defensive energy was the best it’s been maybe all year in that first half when we built that lead. Then they came out and threw the first punch in the second half and got the momentum going.”

Leading 50-35 with 15:28 to play, the Huskers surrendered 14 straight points over the next three minutes. Northwestern deployed a zone defense to keep NU out of the paint, and it worked. The Huskers didn’t score in the paint during the first 8:41 of the second half. They couldn’t make the Wildcats pay from the perimeter (3 for 15 from 3-point range), either.

Overall, the Huskers made four field goals over the final 15:28.

“We got pretty stagnant,” Nebraska guard Alonzo Verge said. “Just holding the ball for like two seconds longer (than we needed to). It played a part with me not calling plays and getting into offense quick enough. When they got into zone, we should’ve gotten into the offense faster.”

Meanwhile, the Wildcats made nine of their first 10 shots out of halftime and shot 53.3% during the second half. They also grabbed 11 offensive rebounds, including seven after halftime.

Boo Buie, who led Northwestern with 16 points and three assists, gave Northwestern its first second-half lead by draining a 3 from the right wing with 6:24 to play. Pete Nance added 14 points, eight assist and eight rebounds. Chase Audige added nine points, including the go-ahead free throw with 18.9 seconds to play.

“(We made) a lot of mistakes that we really didn’t have in the first half,” NU forward Derrick Walker said. “They hit a lot of shots, but (they) came off our mental mistakes.”

Nebraska led 39-25 at halftime after holding the Wildcats to 4 of 19 from 3-point range before halftime. The Huskers allowed 26 3s in their first two meetings with Northwestern. They allowed 10 on Wednesday night.

NU also forced 10 first-half turnovers, which put Northwestern over its season average (9.6). Those mistakes, coupled with the Wildcats’ long 3-point misses, fueled a Husker attack that repeatedly targeted the rim early.

Nebraska scored 28 of its 39 first-half points in the paint. Walker led the charge with 11 points in the first 20 minutes. He finished with 16 on 4 of 5 shooting before fouling out with 18.9 seconds to play. Verge finished with 21 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. And the Huskers finished their season without a Big Ten tournament win for the third straight year.

Next up? Decisions. Athletic Director Trev Alberts wants Hoiberg to make “changes.” Hoiberg won’t say what those are yet. Hoiberg also said NU will bring “a lot” of players back from this team, but he won’t say which ones yet. Seniors Kobe Webster and Verge are gone for certain. Walker, the McGowens brothers and Lat Mayen have decisions to make.

Those decisions will come later, after NU digests the 15 minutes that spoiled its late-season push. Walker was still reeling at the postgame podium.

“I haven’t even got to think about that,” Walker said when asked to assess NU’s season. “I was planning on being here longer than tonight, so I don’t know how to answer that question.”

Notes

McGowens returns: After missing Sunday’s win against Wisconsin with a wrist injury, Bryce McGowens scored six points on 2-of-10 shooting, tying his worst scoring output at Nebraska and setting a new low for field goal percentage.

How much of a role did the injured wrist play?

Trey McGowens said he didn’t know. Hoiberg said he had no second thoughts about playing Bryce, who was not made available to media, for 32 minutes.

Bryce McGowens changed his wrist tape multiple times on Wednesday. He warmed up with and without a taped wrist. Then he retaped it by game time and took the tape off again before the game ended.

Maybe that’s nothing. Hoiberg said timing was McGowens’ problem against the Wildcats. But before Wednesday, McGowens hadn’t scored in single digits since Jan. 14 at Purdue. He only scored fewer than 10 points five times all season.

The last one coincided with his wrist injury.

“I appreciate Bryce going out with an injured wrist and giving it a go tonight,” Hoiberg said. “I’m proud of him for going out there and giving it a go without getting a lot of reps in practice this last week.”

Setting the example: Verge didn’t win many games at Nebraska. Neither did Walker, if Wednesday’s loss was his final game in Lincoln.

But one day, “when we take this program to where it’s never been,” Hoiberg said, he will look back and appreciate their role in Nebraska’s ascension.

“They really helped our young guys understand what it’s all about,” Hoiberg said. They taught NU’s underclassmen how to play the right way. And Verge hopes they inherit his passion.

He pushed Webster by competing against him every day. He urged redshirt freshman Quaran McPherson to join the competition. And going forward, he hopes the Huskers will remember those lessons.

“I’ve passed down just intensity to those guys and just how important it is to be vocal,” Verge said. “I think I’ll pass that down to them.”

<start agate>

Nebraska (10-22);39;30-69

Northwestern (15-15);25;46-71

INSERT NEBRASKA INDIVIDUAL STATS TABLE HERE

3-Point Goals: 3-15, .200 (Webster 2-5, Mayen 1-3, T.McGowens 0-1, Wilcher 0-1, Verge 0-2, B.McGowens 0-3). Team Rebounds: 2. Team Turnovers: 1. Blocked Shots: 2 (Walker 2). Turnovers: 10 (Verge 3, B.McGowens 2, T.McGowens 2, Walker 2, Mayen). Steals: 11 (T.McGowens 4, Verge 4, B.McGowens, Walker, Webster). Technical Fouls: Walker, 12:44 second.

INSERT NORTHWESTERN INDIVIDUAL STATS TABLE HERE

3-Point Goals: 10-30, .333 (Buie 3-10, Nance 2-3, Audige 2-6, Williams 1-1, Berry 1-4, Roper 1-4, Beran 0-2). Team Rebounds: 2. Team Turnovers: None. Blocked Shots: 4 (Beran 2, Nance, Young). Turnovers: 14 (Buie 6, Greer 2, Nance 2, Audige, Beran, Berry, Williams). Steals: 3 (Audige 2, Buie). Technical Fouls: None.

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