The Nebraska men’s basketball team erased a 14-point second-half deficit Saturday afternoon at No. 24 Rutgers, but the Scarlet Knights scored the final nine points to rally for a 75-72 victory at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
Nebraska led 72-66 with less than three minutes to play, but Gio Baker hit a pair of 3-pointers down the stretch, including the game-winner with 1.1 seconds remaining. Baker’s clutch threes – his only two baskets of the game – came after Nebraska turned a 14-point second-half deficit into a six-point lead. But the Scarlet Knights prevailed thanks to strong finishes to both halves, as Rutgers outscored Nebraska 8-2 over the final two minutes of the first half and 9-0 over the final two minutes of the game.
With the win, Rutgers remained perfect at home this season, improving to 14-0 at the RAC. The Scarlet Knights improved to 15-5 overall and moved to 6-3 in the Big Ten Conference, while Nebraska fell to 7-13 on the season and 2-7 in conference play.
Nebraska nearly pulled out the come-from-behind win thanks to a big second half from Cam Mack, who was limited in the first half due to foul trouble. Mack scored all 19 of his points in the final period, going 6-of-7 from the field with a career-high four 3-pointers. Thorir Thorbjarnarson tied his career highs with five 3-pointers and 17 points, falling just short of a double-double after grabbing eight rebounds. Jervay Green added 11 points and Haanif Cheatham chipped in 10 points, as the Huskers had four players in double figures.
NU knocked down 11 3-pointers, and the Huskers’ 72 points were the most Rutgers has allowed during its 14-game home winning streak. Nebraska was only out-rebounded by seven after the Scarlet Knights grabbed 17 more boards than the Huskers in the first meeting this season. But Rutgers had 10 offense rebounds and outscored Nebraska 17-5 in second-chance points, and both the Scarlet Knights’ game-tying and game-winning 3-pointers came after offensive rebounds.
In a competitive first half, it was a one-possession game for 15 of the opening 20 minutes. Rutgers led 38-33 at the break after scoring eight of the final 10 points of the half. The Scarlet Knights shot 44 percent from the field in the period compared to 36 percent for Nebraska, but the Huskers knocked down five 3-pointers to stay close. Thorbjarnarson made three of those five three pointers, as he led Nebraska with nine first-half points. With Mack limited due to foul trouble, but Dachon Burke Jr. stepped up and dished out five first-half assists, one shy of his career high.
The opening six minutes featured runs for both teams. After Rutgers scored the first basket of the game, Nebraska hit three consecutive 3-pointers – two from Thorbjarnarson – in a 9-0 run that put the Huskers up seven. Rutgers responded with an 11-2 run over the next two minutes to regain its two-point lead.
Trailing 13-11, Nebraska stayed within four over the next six minutes before Rutgers used a 7-2 run to build a 30-23 advantage at the 4:42 mark. NU answered with eight straight points over the next two minutes to regain the lead at 31-30 before Rutgers scored eight of the final 10 points of the half to take a five-point lead into the locker room.
Mack, who was limited to nine minutes in the first half, knocked down a 3-pointer to open the second half. But Rutgers responded with a 13-2 run over the next three minutes, building a 51-38 lead and forcing a Husker timeout with 15:57 remaining.
Thorbjarnarson momentarily stopped the Scarlet Knights’ momentum with a 3-pointer before Rutgers answered with five points in 10 seconds to stretch the lead to 14. Rutgers continued to lead by double digits until the Huskers made a huge run.
Trailing 60-49 with 12 minutes to play, Nebraska went on an 18-2 run to take a 67-62 lead with 6:46 remaining. Green and Mack combined for 14 of Nebraska’s 18 points during the five-minute run, which culminated with the Huskers scoring 11 straight points in a three-minute stretch.
Rutgers ended the Husker run with a 3-pointer to cut the lead to two, but Mack answered with a 3-pointer of his own. Another Mack basket stretched the lead to 72-66 with less than three minutes remaining but that would prove to be the Huskers’ final points. Rutgers tied the game with two minutes left on back-to-back 3-pointers just 38 seconds apart and neither team scored again until Baker’s game-winner.
After playing four of its last five games on the road, Nebraska returns home to Pinnacle Bank Arena on Tuesday to take on the Michigan Wolverines. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m., and the game will be televised on ESPNU with live radio coverage provided by the Husker Sports Network.
*-Today marked the sixth time that Nebraska has hit at least 10 3-pointers in a game this season, as the Huskers hit 11 3-pointers today.
*-Thorir Thorbjarnarson tied his career high in both points (17) and 3-pointers (five), as he had 17 points on two other occasions, most recently against Indiana on Jan. 18. His five 3-pointers matches NU’s best this season, as he had five 3-pointers at Ohio State.
*-It is the eighth time this season that Thorir Thorbjarnarson has connected on multiple 3-pointers in game.
*-Nebraska matched Rutgers with 30 points in the paint today after being outscored 52-24 in the paint in the first meeting on Jan. 3
*-Cam Mack’s four 3-pointers were a season high (previous high of three on five previous occasions).
*-Dachon Burke Jr. had a season-high five assists. His previous high was two on seven occasions, most recently at Ohio State on Jan. 14.
*-Charlie Easley played a career high 23 minutes on Saturday and finished with seven points, one off his career high.
*-Nebraska falls to 0-2 vs. ranked teams this year.
*-Nebraska had an 11-0 run in the second half, the 16th time NU has had a double-digit run this season.
*-Today is the first time in 20 games where Kevin Cross wasn’t the Huskers’ first sub off the bench, as Charlie Easley was NU’s first sub at the 16:07 mark of the first half.