Nebraska opened the Cornhusker Classic with a 64-50 win over Rider in the opening game of the Cornhusker Classic.
Senior guard Keisei Tominaga made his season debut, but it was C.J. Wilcher who came off the bench for the first time this season and stole the show.
Wilcher finished with a team-high 13 points on 4-of-8 shooting and five rebounds in just under 23 minutes of action.
A rock fight, a slugfest, a bricklaying contest — whatever you want to call it, that’s what it was.
The Huskers and Rider combined to shoot 25% (13-of-52) in the second half from the field. For the game, the teams shot just 31.9% (36-of-113).
“Obviously not a great night offensively,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said after the game.
That may have been putting it lightly. There were stagnant possessions for the Huskers on the offensive end, particularly in the first half.
Over and over again, the Huskers tried to back down a defender and finish with either a contested fade-away jump shot or a hook shot, or sometimes just turning it over with a Rider defender stealing the ball after swarming the paint.
Frankly, that is something Nebraska knew would happen going into the game and should’ve been prepared for because it’s what Florida A&M had success with — when they did have success — defensively.
This makes two of the first three games in which the Huskers have shot under 45% from the field. The 3-point shooting wasn’t good either, just 9-of-32 or 28.1%.
In three games, Nebraska is shooting just under 41% from the field and 33.3% from behind the arc. That clearly will not be a recipe for success in conference play and against the few and far between better non-conference opponents remaining.
Wilcher Hot Off The Bench
C.J. Wilcher might be better suited to come off the bench. After starting the first two regular season games, the junior guard was the spark the team needed with 11 of his 13 points coming in his 12 first-half minutes.
“I don’t think anything really changes,” Wilcher said of coming off the bench. “ My role stays the same. Just come in, make shots and be solid on defense. Be a leader.”
The 6-foot-5 guard’s four offensive rebounds were tied for a team high with forward Josiah Allick. It doesn’t hurt that he was also 3-of-5 from 3-point range, including 3-of-3 in the first half.
Calling Card: Defense
Nebraska held Rider scoreless for a 9:11 stretch in the second half. That and two Keisei Tominaga 3s seemed to be the difference in the game.
The Huskers forced 12 consecutive missed Bronc shots in that nine minute stretch, which sealed the win.
“Every night defense has to be our constant,” Hoiberg said after the game.
Rider cut the lead to one (47-46) with 10:41 to in the second half before the Huskers used a 17-0 run to pull away from the Broncs.
“Defensively, I was really proud of our guys for continuing to go out there and battle,” Hoiberg said. “It’s not easy — I’m telling you from experience — when the ball doesn’t go in the hole, to be able to have the mindset to continue to defend, continue to communicate. It’s a physical team. We knew we were going to get a battle on the glass, and this team out-rebounded Marquette the other night, and I thought we did a great job of hitting first, creating that rebound area and going up and finishing the possession with two hands.”
In the end, a win is a win. In years past Nebraska, would have lost a buy game like this; see: UC Riverside, Southern Illinois, Western Illinois, Kennesaw State and Samford.