After going dormant for almost 11 seasons, the Kansas State Wildcats returned to Lincoln this afternoon to resume the third most played series in Nebraska Cornhuskers men’s basketball history. In a series that dates back to 1906, today’s matchup went the same way 127 prior ones have gone in the 221st meeting as Kansas State defeated UNL 67-58. Also of note was assistant coach Matt Abdelmassih was back on the bench for Nebraska after taking an indefinite leave of absence for medical reasons beginning Dec. 6.
The win marks the sixth straight loss in the series for Nebraska dating back to a 77-72 loss in Manhattan on Feb. 28, 2009 and drops Nebraska to 93-128. However, it is a far cry from the worst losing streak against the Wildcats which was 11 games from March 5, 1960 through Feb. 17, 1964. The best win streak for the Huskers, though, was a six game streak from March 2, 1935 through Jan. 22, 1938.
In more recent Husker history, this game ended up playing out much the same way most have this season as an early lead quickly evaporated under the pressure of sustaining shooting in a dysfunctional offense. Nebraska managed to build an early lead, almost hitting double digits over the Wildcats at 17-9 when Bryce McGowens sunk both free throws at the 13:18 mark after being fouled on the fast break.
However, shooting went cold and K-State cut it to within four at the 9:16 mark on a pair of free throws by Selton Miguel. Back-to-back threes by McGowens and C.J. Wilcher gave Nebraska its only double digit lead of the day in response, leading 25-15 with 8:48 left and forcing a Wildcat timeout. Shooting completey disappeared for the rest of the half as the Huskers managed to finally snap the scoring drought on a layup by McGowens with :21 left in the half to make it 31-27 K-State in the lead to head into the locker room.
Close one with the cats. pic.twitter.com/bsfpPpwO1i— Nebraska Basketball (@HuskerHoops) December 19, 2021
Both teams struggled early in the second half with Nebraska tying it up at 33 with 17:50 to go on an alleyoop by McGowens off yet another turnover, and the Huskers stretched it to three on a second-chance layup by Lat Mayen that drew a foul by Mike Mcguirl and Mayen hit the extra point. Kansas State retook the lead again, but UNL tied it back up twice before trading the lead back and forth at the halfway point.
After Nebraska retook the lead at the 10:13 mark of a layup by Alonzo Verge Jr. that drew an and one opportunity Verge stretched to 47-45, the Wildcats quickly scored on a three pointer by Nijel Pack and never looked back. Neither team shot well down the stretch, but Kansas State managed to play less poorly and stretched the lead late double digits briefly on a pair of free throws by Pack, leading 67-58 with :26 left. Verge made a pair of free throws of his own six seconds later for the final points of the game to make it 67-58.
Despite the loss and continuing struggles on offense, there were some upsides for the Huskers. Aggressive full-court defense helped in causing 19 total turnovers by Kansas State, 12 via steals, giving UNL 11 points off of them. However, 17 Nebraska turnovers, many unforced errors, helped give the Wildcats 22 points off of turnovers. The Huskers managed just 28 points in the paint and six points from the bench while going 11-of-16 on layups and shooting a paltry 5-for-28 from three-point range (17.9 percent). Nebraska also gave up 15 second chance points to the Wilcats, allowing the visitors to grab 10 offensive rebounds and win the battle on the boards 44-36 overall.
Verge led the Huskers in scoring (21 points), assists (5), and steals (4), was second in rebounds (5) while he also tied for the team high in turnovers (6). Verge went 7-for-14 from the field, second best for Nebraska in percentage from the field behind Derrick Walker’s 3-for-5 shooting from the floor to go with his team high nine rebounds. Walker also tied in blocks (1) and turnovers (6). McGowens was second in scoring with 14 points and second in assists with two. Keisei Tominaga went 2-for-10 from deep, certainly finding some of his shot selection to blame for the awful shooting percentage.
Pack led the Wilcats in scoring with 15 points, while Ismael Massoud added 10 points.
The Huskers will return to Manhattan next season to face Kansas State with another matchup set for a neutral court in Kansas City in 2023 to makeup for the rescheduled 2020 matchup there. The only programs Nebraska has faced more times overall are Iowa State (234) and Kansas (244), while Missouri is close behind K-State (219).
As for this season, Nebraska welcomes the Kennesaw State Owls to Pinnacle Bank Arena this upcoming Wednesday, Dec. 22 at 6:30 p.m. CST for the final non-conference game of the season before the holiday break. After that, No. 15 Ohio State will come to Lincoln on Sunday, Jan. 2.