As crunch times arrives for Nebraska, everyone must be ready — especially the freshmen

2 months ago Fremont Tribune

We've reached crunch time of the season.

There are 12 regular season games left, and if the Nebraska men's basketball team wants to sniff any of the postseason tournaments, it needs to find ways to win — even if those wins come in an ugly fashion.

If Wednesday's game was any example, every Husker has to stay at the ready.

Even the freshmen. Especially the freshmen.

Junior forward Juwan Gary isn't coming back. He'll have surgery Wednesday, coach Fred Hoiberg said. Who knows when Blaise Keita will return, as he still deals with a nagging high ankle sprain. And Nebraska's do-it-all senior forward Derrick Walker often gets into foul trouble. He's had three or more fouls in six of his 14 games played.

So when they're all on the bench, who ya gonna call?

Freshman guard Denim Dawson, freshman 7-footer Oleg Kojenets and freshman guard Jamarques Lawrence.

All three were called upon in various ways in NU's one-possession win over Ohio State last week.

Dawson, who is now starting in place of Gary, played 30 minutes. Lawrence logged 19 minutes, and Kojenets was on the floor for five. 

With roughly 10 minutes to play in the second half on Wednesday, the trio of freshmen went on a little run for NU. Kojenets drove down the lane for his third bucket of the season, Dawson drained a jumper from the paint and Lawrence knocked down a three-pointer to give NU the lead — one Nebraska never relinquished.

One of the things Hoiberg is most proud of so far this season is how his veteran leaders like Gary, Sam Griesel, Emmanuel Bandoumel, Walker and C.J. Wilcher are helping the freshmen come into their own as their roles have increased.

"It's not only what Juwan is doing for a guy like Denim, but it's what Sam, Emmanuel and C.J. are doing for Jamarques," Hoiberg said. "Those veteran guys that have been through it, it can help when a guy may be getting lit up a little bit, maybe getting chewed out a little bit, is to keep their head, keep getting better, keep learning.

"There's nothing personal. There's a lot of constructive criticism that we give. And it's all about growing through those times and our leadership this year, I've been really pleased with." 

Nebraska at Penn State

Where: Bryce Jordan Center, Happy Valley, Pennsylvania

When: 1:15 p.m. Saturday

TV | Radio: BTN | 1400 AM in Lincoln, 590 AM in Omaha (Huskers Radio Network)

Penn State (12-6, 3-4 Big Ten)

G – Jalen Pickett 6-4 Grad 17.7 ppg

G – Andrew Funk 6-5 Grad 12.4 ppg

G/F – Seth Lundy 6-6 Sr. 13.7 ppg

G – Camren Winter 6-2 Grad 9.1 ppg

F –  Kebba Njie 6-10 Fr. 3.9 ppg

Nebraska (10-9, 3-5 Big Ten)

F – Derrick Walker 6-9 Sr. 13.6 ppg

G/F – Denim Dawson 6-6 RFr. 1.5 ppg

G – Keisei Tominaga 6-2 Jr. 9.9 ppg

G – Emmanuel Bandoumel 6-4 Sr. 8.7 ppg

G/F – Sam Griesel 6-7 Sr. 11.4 ppg


Series: Penn State leads 13-11.

Last meeting: Nebraska 93, Penn State 70

KenPom prediction: Penn State 70, Nebraska 62


Coach: Micah Shrewsberry (2nd season at Penn State, 2nd year overall)

Record: 12-6, Big Ten 3-4


NET: No. 51KenPom: No. 39

Record in home games: 9-1

Last game: L, at Wisconsin, 63-60

Notes: Penn State, the most experienced team in the Division I ranks, is the 26th-best team nationally in offensive efficiency. ... Penn State is the nation's best team at limiting turnovers, only averaging 8.7 per contest. ... The Nittany Lions make an average of 10.9 three-pointers per game, a mark that ranks fifth nationwide.

Two Nittany Lions to watch:

Graduate student guard Jalen Pickett is one of the top players in the country, let alone the Big Ten. Pickett, the Dec. 27 Big Ten Player of the Week, is the only player in the country averaging at least 17 points, at least seven rebounds and at least seven assists per game. If Pickett keeps up those numbers, he'll be just the second player in the last 30 years to do so. His assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.74 is second nationwide.

"It all starts with Pickett," Hoiberg said. "If he can get a matchup that they like, and you have to come and help and dig, he's finding those shooters. Almost eight assists per game, eight rebounds and a very good scorer of the basketball. Just really impressed with him."

Senior guard/forward Seth Lundy presents a tough mismatch. He's the only player in the Big Ten averaging 10 or more points and six or more rebounds while meeting the following benchmarks: 55% from two, 40% from three and 80% from the free throw line. Lundy, who averages 13.4 points per game, was held to just two points earlier this week against Wisconsin, but had 25 points the game before that against Indiana. Watch for him to bounce back.

What Hoiberg said about Penn State: "It's their talent. They have a team that is incredibly difficult to prepare for because of all the different weapons that they have on the floor. Everybody that's out there can make shots. They play different lineups. They play small, they play big, and they just put you in a bind."


Coach: Fred Hoiberg (4th season at Nebraska, 9th year overall)

Record: 10-9, Big Ten 3-5


NET: No. 89KenPom: No. 93

Record in road games: 2-4

Last game: W, vs. Ohio State, 63-60

Notes: Starter Juwan Gary will be out for the rest of the season. ... Nebraska has won two straight in Happy Valley. ... A win for NU would give the Huskers 11 wins on the season, which would be the most for a Fred Hoiberg-coached team at NU. ... Nebraska ranks No. 35 nationally in defensive efficiency, which is the highest NU has been since the 2014-15 season. 

Two Huskers to watch

Redshirt-freshman guard/forward Denim Dawson has been thrown into the fire for Nebraska in the last two games after Gary sustained his season-ending shoulder injury. With Gary out now for the remainder of the season, it's time for Dawson to step up. Against Ohio State, Dawson grabbed a career-high eight rebounds and scored seven points in 30 minutes of game action.

Now in a new role, sophomore guard C.J. Wilcher is coming off the bench as NU's sixth man with Keisei Tominaga now in the starting lineup. The hope for Wilcher, who is currently shooting 37.3% from the floor and 31.4% from three, is that it'll help change up his rhythm and get him to a place where he's more consistent. One stat Hoiberg pointed to: Wilcher was nearly 50% from three last season after the new year. Before? 33%.











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