Playing at Pinnacle Bank Arena for the final time in the 2020-21 season, the Nebraska Cornhuskers put together their most complete performance that even the most optimistic follower of the program could not have seen coming, getting up early and rolling to a dominant 72-51 victory over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Monday night.
Junior Lat Mayen got things started quickly for the Huskers (7-17 overall, 3-14 B1G), hitting the team’s first two shots, both 3-pointers, giving NU a lead they would never relinquish. Not only that, but he knocked down his first four attempts from deep in scoring 14 of Nebraska’s first 16 points. He went on to a 20-point first half and 25 points on the night, leading all scorers and setting a new career-high.
This was no one-man show, though, as NU played their best team game on offense this year by far. On 16 made field goals, the Huskers assisted on 14 of them, against just six first-half turnovers. It led to a 43-25 halftime lead, the most points Rutgers (13-10, 9-10) has given up in any first half this season.
The Huskers flexed their defensive muscle in the first half, too, holding the Scarlet Knights to just 1-12 shooting from 3-point range and grabbing eight steals. Rutgers only managed 43% shooting, fell behind Nebraska on the glass 17-13, and didn’t shoot a free throw before the break, either.
For the second straight game, Head Coach Fred Hoiberg featured the same starting lineup of Mayen, fellow juniors Derrick Walker and Trey McGowens, and seniors Kobe Webster and Thorir Thorbjarnarson. Walker and McGowens joined Mayen in double figures with 14 and 12 points, respectively.
Rutgers had their best chance to climb back into the game with seven minutes left in the first half. After McGowens buried one of his two 3-pointers for a 33-19 Husker lead, Ron Harper Jr and Jacob Young each made baskets to cut the lead to ten at the six-minute mark. Meanwhile, NU was turning it over on three consecutive possessions. On the fourth, it took an offensive rebound by Thor to keep Rutgers from cutting it to single digits, as Kobe Webster found Derrick Walker down low for a bucket and-one. The Scarlet Knights were never that close again.
Thorbjarnarson took advantage of additional playing time to the tune of two points, seven rebounds, five assists, and four steals in 34 minutes. It tied his season high in floor time dating back to the Georgia Tech game December 9th, where he also grabbed seven boards. Measure his assists against just a single turnover, and it spells success. McGowens also posted a 5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio on the night.
Even though Nebraska streaked ahead to a huge start, they didn’t slow down coming back from the locker room. They hit 11 of their first 19 shots in building a 30-point advantage. In finishing at 52% overall, the Huskers joined just Ohio State and Illinois, two top-ten teams, in shooting over 50% against Rutgers this season.
Reigning Big Ten Player of the Week Geo Baker just dropped 20 points and ten assists in the Scarlet Knights’ win over Indiana on Wednesday. Nebraska shut him down, allowing just four points and zero assists in 28 minutes. Baker shot just 2-for-10 overall and missed all six of his shots from behind the arc.
It has been a tough season for Nebraska: enduring a long conference losing streak; a 20-day program shutdown with every rotational player getting Covid; weeklong stretches with four games and single days off in between for recuperation. Then this morning, the news breaks that the team’s leading scorer, Teddy Allen, was no longer a part of the program.
Add it all up, and it was a remarkable start to the month of March for Nebrasketball.
Two more games to go in this regular season – first up is Iowa on Thursday in Iowa City at 8pm.