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BASKETBALL

Trey McGowens' return should give Nebraska a shot in the arm: 'He does so many little things'

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LINCOLN — Help is coming.

After sitting out Friday’s 92-65 loss to Purdue, Trey McGowens should return this week. And whether McGowens plays against Indiana on Monday or at Ohio State on Saturday, the Huskers are thrilled to have him back.

“He does so many little things for this team,” coach Fred Hoiberg said Thursday. “And obviously, first and foremost is toughness on the perimeter, especially on the defensive end.”

McGowens has ranked top five in his conference in steals per game in all three of his college seasons (twice in the ACC, once in the Big Ten). Beyond his playmaking, McGowens provides a perimeter defensive presence that none of his teammates can replicate.

In McGowens’ absence, seven players have posted career-high scoring totals against the Huskers. Four were guards, and that doesn’t include Purdue guard Jaden Ivey, who scored 17 points in 23 minutes Friday.

Nebraska will see Malaki Branham, who scored 35 points at Pinnacle Bank Arena in the Buckeyes' 87-79 win Jan. 2, again Saturday.

“You've seen at times players that have gone off, and you just don't have that defensive stopper out there of Trey's quality,” Hoiberg said. “That's what he's done his entire career. He did a really good job for us last year as far as getting in gaps, getting (his) hands (active), and just playing with that level of toughness that you have to have in this league to be able to compete.”

The Huskers have lacked that same toughness at times without McGowens. Hoiberg questioned NU’s effort after blowout losses to Michigan, Auburn and Rutgers, and the coach said Friday that Purdue “overwhelmed” NU with its physicality.

McGowens’ presence might not change the outcome of those games, but it could’ve changed the tenor. Nebraska freshman Bryce McGowens, Trey’s younger brother, said Jan. 4 that playing with Trey gives Bryce “an extra boost,” and that their brotherly chemistry can influence teammates.

Hoiberg agreed. On the night Trey broke his foot, Hoiberg called the junior Nebraska’s “heart and soul” and its loudest locker-room voice.

This week, the Huskers should hear Trey’s voice on the court again. And when the Huskers hit adversity, Hoiberg thinks that voice can make a difference.

“I think it's a lift not only for Bryce, but for everybody,” Hoiberg said. “When you get your emotional leader out there, a guy that’s been through as many battles as Trey has, it's gonna help everybody — maybe Bryce as much as anybody.”

INDIANA AT NEBRASKA-men power box

Noteworthy

Trey behind the line: Despite shooting a career-high 36.7% from 3-point range last season, Trey McGowens attempted zero 3s during the four full games (two exhibitions) he’s played in 2021-22.

Nebraska doesn’t need McGowens to be a gunner, but it does need him to take the open looks when they come. If he hesitates on those, defenses will help off him without worry. And the Husker offense, which ranks last among Big Ten teams in efficiency, doesn’t need extra obstacles.

Double-edged sword: Concerned about Purdue’s perimeter shooting, Nebraska left Derrick Walker alone guarding 7-foot-4 center Zach Edey. The result: two fouls in 2:22, and Walker’s foul trouble lingered until he fouled out with 8:20 remaining.

Indiana presents similar concerns.

Center Trayce Jackson-Davis ranks fifth in the Big Ten in scoring (19.3 points per game), but the Hoosiers surround Jackson-Davis with shooters such as Parker Stewart (45.8% from 3) and Miller Kopp (38.8% from 3). And while Nebraska held Jackson-Davis to 14 points Dec. 4, it did so with double teams that left holes in its perimeter defense.

Stewart made three 3-pointers against the Huskers. So did freshman Tamar Bates, and the Hoosiers made 8 of 22 3s as a team.

The Huskers have been burned by doubling and not doubling. What’s their next move?

“We're gonna have to get creative with it,” Hoiberg said after Friday’s loss. “Because we cannot afford to have Derek Walker in foul trouble.”

MLK day: The Huskers and Hoosiers will each wear warmups featuring the word “DREAM” before Monday’s game to honor Martin Luther King Jr. PBA’s game operations staff will also run in-game graphics and announcements that honor King’s legacy.

“In these challenging times, I think we can all learn something from the life of Dr. King,” said Dr. Lawrence Chatters, NU’s executive associate athletic director for diversity, equity and inclusion. “He was a dreamer who believed in all that is good about our country and saw the inherent benefits and importance of unity.”


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