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Nebrasketball downs Maine 79-66 in season opener

NCAA Basketball: Maine at Nebraska Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

The Nebraska Cornhuskers men’s basketball team moves to 1-0 to open the season for just the second time under head coach Fred Hoiberg. The Huskers took care of business against the Maine Black Bears, emerging victorious in a 79-66 win that never saw the team trail. UNL had three players hit double figures in scoring and one of those three notched a double-double with 10 rebounds in his first outing wearing the Husker uniform.

Seven different Huskers scored in tonight’s opener against Maine, but Lincoln native and North Dakota State transfer guard Sam Griesel led the way with 22 points in his debut in a UNL jersey. He also tied the team lead with assists (3) and led in fouls drawn (8) while finishing second in boards (9), falling just short of a double-double himself.

Griesel went 5-for-6 from the charity strip and led in shooting percentage from the floor, hitting 8-of-12 from the floor and also 1-of-2 from three-point range. Guard Keisei Tominaga also lit it up tonight with 19-points. He went 7-of-12 from the floor and 3-of-7 from deep and notched a block on defense.

Also making his Husker debut, Alabama transfer Juwan Gary notched a double-double in his first go (third of his career) with 14 pints and 11 rebounds, the latter making him the team leader for the night and also a career high. Gary had eight of the Huskers’ 16 offensive rebounds. He also tied for team lead in steals (1) and was second in fouls drawn (7) while going 3-of-6 from the line.

The 16 offensive rebounds was the most by the Huskers since the 2020-2021 season opener against McNeese State when UNL notched 17. Those 16 boards led to 16 second chance points for Nebraska. Last year’s season high was 14 boards set twice.

Nebraska started the scoring early and jumped out to a 9-0 run in just over the first three minutes of game play, heading into the first media timeout up 9-2.

From there, the Black Bears managed to keep it from running away through the next stretch. The Huskers pulled ahead to leads of 11 three times, but Maine found an answer and would cut it back to just eight or nine each time through the next media timeout.

The back and fourth continued with the Black Bears managing briefly to narrow it down to just seven before Nebraska went on a tear to make it a 13-point lead. Maine ate into it again, but the Huskers responded and Tominaga hit a layup to make it 14 for the largest lead of the night to that point and another media timeout.

UNL finished out the final stretch of the first half briefly leading by 15 on a Tominaga three-pointer for what would be the largest lead of the game at any point by Nebraska. The Huskers headed into the locker room at the half leading 40-28.

Nebraska cooled off in the second half defensively. Whereas the first half saw a 12-point scoring advantage, Maine finished just one-point behind in the box score for the second half. The Black Bears never managed a run of more than five-points, but quickly ate away at the lead coming out of the locker room.

By the first media timeout, Maine had cut the Nebraska lead down to just two twice. The Black Bears managed to quickly trim it down to just one on a free three at the 13:00 minute mark. UNL went on a tear and headed into the next media timeout up seven, leading 61-54.

The Huskers came out of that media timeout and promptly pushed it back to double digits. From there, Maine was only able to trim it to nine three times but Nebraska never let it get closer than that.

Griesel scored 18 of his 22-points to pace the Huskers offense as well. Nebraska also shot better from the perimeter, going 5-of-15 from three-point range compared to the 7-of-22 in the first half.

Nebraska finished the game with a +17 rebounding advantage, the best by a Husker squad against a Division I opponent since the 2017-18 season. With the win, UNLimproves to 86-41 all-time in season openers and has won 20 of the past 22 openers.

Nebraska returns to the court Thursday, Nov. 10 against intrastate foe the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks. The game is set for a 7 p.m. tipoff and will be streamed on B1G+.

Post Game

Nebraska Coach Fred Hoiberg

Opening Statement

“Obviously, we played a very good opponent today. We knew coming in they had guys who could really heat up and get it going. Gedi (Juozapaitis) especially. He played in the same league as Coach (Adam) Howard and also my son last year. We knew coming in that he was a guy that could really heat up from the outside, and that’s exactly what happened. Kristians Feierbergs was a guy that got going as well. We made an adjustment and had more of a square coverage. I thought we executed that well and shut it down a little bit. Then I thought we kept executing. I thought we finally started getting stops to open the lead. Proud of the guys for doing that. We have plenty to work on. The next 48 hours are going to be very important. We are playing a quality opponent on Thursday, and we are going to have to play better than we did tonight for the full 40 minutes. I loved our start. I thought we really came out of the gate with great energy. Juwan (Gary) got us off to a great start with an offensive rebound and a great hustle play. He hit a three early, and that’s the kind of start we need. Now we need to duplicate in the second half. It’s very important to get off to a great start for the first five minutes of both halves.”

On the importance of player-led teams and what they’re saying in the huddle

“They are talking before I get in there a lot of times. When I get in there, their focus shifts. Sam (Griesel) came to me and said that those guys see some things that we don’t see. Those guys suggested some things, we ran it and they worked. That’s the kind of leadership Sam can give, and the trust level that I have with him. Emmanuel (Bandoumel), same thing.”

On if he liked what he saw in the front court

“I had a good conversation with Wilhelm (Breidenbach) a couple days ago, and we decided to make the change. Really just to change up the rhythm. He was going to be the first big off the bench in whatever position that was. We ran a couple clear-out plays for him, and he got to the rim. Wilhem is always going to play hard, and it was great to see him step up and drain that three when we really needed it. I was pleased with Wilhelm. He’s battled some tough things this last week, so to bring him off and change his rhythm I think paid off.

Nebraska Player Quotes

On getting the game under control after the lead was cut to one point:

Sam Griesel: “That happens all the time in college basketball. Obviously, they came out in the second half and punched us in the face, but I think kind of like what we saw in Colorado the resiliency of the group and staying together was something that we were preaching in the huddles. Every time we broke the huddle, we wanted to make sure we were all on the same page and just trusted our principles defensively. After they got really hot in that first six or seven minutes, they started to cool off and that first part is a big credit to them. They shot it well in that stretch, but just trusting our principles and trusting the process.”

On the block that sparked the offense

Sam Griesel: “Effort plays can really change the outlook of halves and games completely. Obviously, that being blocks, dunks whatever to get the crowd into it so that was big time. That (Bandoumel’s block) was a big change in the momentum for us. We got some shots to fall and got some shots that we wanted to get. I thought a few of the times we forced some especially early in transition but like I said earlier just sticking to our principles defensively and trusting the process after that effort play from Emmanuel (Bandoumel).”

On Keisei Tominaga pitching in 10-straight points

Sam Griesel: “That is Keisei to a T. When I first got here, he was not here. He was still playing with Japan but his first few weeks he just lit it up and I was like ‘Who is this?’ Especially when he comes off the bench that is what he can bring for us. He is a big spark plug and he can just take the lid off the basket for us so obviously he did that tonight, but we are going to continue to rely on him to stretch the floor and be that guy for us.”

On how the players led during the game

Sam Griesel: “Just speaking up in the huddles weather that was timeout huddles or in the flow of the game when the ball goes out of bounds or whatever. Me personally I kind of think it is my job to rally the troops every time and make sure we are on the same page and bring the team into the huddles and that has just been a big emphasis that I have talked about with Coach Hoiberg is just when we are in the huddles we are on the same page and just me and him our relationship I always have to have his ears and he always has mine so just talking strategy and making sure everyone is on the same page.”

On Sam Griesel’s second-half points

Sam Griesel: “I would not necessarily say that I came out of half time and was like ‘I need to do this. I need to do that.’ My whole career I always try to let the game come to me and I felt that my role is to do whatever I can to help the team win and tonight it was score and facilitate obviously but I was not particularly pleased with my defensive play so I am going to need to focus on that but I just want to do whatever I can to help this team come out on top.”

On Juwan Gary

Sam Griesel: “Eight offensive rebounds is pretty ridiculous, but he is just such a big energy guy for us. The team can rally around his play. He makes so many hustle plays like we talked about and effort plays and offensive rebounds I think I talked about it before but they are so demoralizing for opponents. When you guard someone for 25 or 26 seconds and then maybe they get a long rebound or Juwan is just out hustling people and we get a second possession it is so demoralizing to them. He is just so relentless on the glass and we are glad that he is on our side.”

On offensive rebounds as a team

Sam Griesel: “It is for sure something we have emphasized both offensively rebounding and defensively. We are a pretty tall team across the board so we are going to have to rely on rebounding and we always want to be positive in the rebounding differential like we were tonight but that has been a big focus for us early this season.”