Battle for the ball

Dachon Burke Jr. and Northwestern forward A.J. Turner battle for the ball. The Huskers attempted to rally in the second half, but the first-half hole was too deep.

EVANSTON, Ill. — Nebraska fell behind 18 in the first half at Northwestern and battled back for a shot to tie the game in the final minute, but Dachon Burke’s attempt fell short, as did the comeback bid, with a 62-57 loss to the last-place Wildcats.

Cam Mack played all 40 minutes and sniffed a triple-double with 11 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. Haanif Cheatham scored 10 on 12 shots.

But the Huskers followed up their 76-70 win over Iowa with their second-worst shooting night of the season and allowed the worst 3-point shooting team in the Big Ten to bury a season-high 10 triples.

Cam Mack

Cam Mack blocks a shot by Northwestern forward Robbie Beran.

Northwestern (6-9, 1-4) had four players in double digits, including Miller Kopp, who scored 15 with three 3-pointers. Pat Spencer added 14 points with eight rebounds. The Wildcats were sporadic — shooting 51.5% from the floor in the first half and then 26.7% in the second — and did what they could to give the Huskers the game. They missed 12 of their final 14 shots, including the front end of three 1-and-1s in the final 90 seconds.

But the hole was too deep, especially with the Huskers shooting 31% from the floor. Nebraska is now 1-6 in games away from Pinnacle Bank Arena.

“It’s a great lesson for the guys to know, to have urgency for 40 minutes,” Fred Hoiberg said on his postgame radio interview.

NU (7-9, 2-3) had three stretches where it failed to score for four or more minutes. In those, Northwestern outscored the Huskers 28-3. Charlie Easley’s inside bucket made it 20-18 midway through the first half. From there, the Huskers collapsed, unable to penetrate Northwestern’s long wings. The Huskers settled for low-percentage shots that often drive Hoiberg crazy. One dribble jumpers. Step-backs.

“When they got size like they do and length, you gotta drive that thing in there to kick, and when we did we got open looks, whether it went in or not, and you live with those,” Hoiberg said. “And we made those in the last game. We made some late, but you gotta trust that your teammate will knock those shots down. It’s a much higher-percentage shot than trying to shoot it over a 7-footer at the rim.”

Haanif Cheatham

Haanif Cheatham goes in for a dunk

Nebraska was 4 for 17 in the lane in the first half and missed 11 of its last 14 shots, the final attempt an airball by Mack as time expired. Northwestern led 42-27 at half.

The Huskers were different in the second half, with Mack finally finding some holes in the Northwestern defense. He dropped two assists in the first three minutes to Yvan Ouedraogo and Cheatham. A circus shot from Thorir Thorbjarnarson — fading away along the baseline — cut the 18-point deficit to eight with 15 minutes left.

Northwestern regressed to the mean, missing five of its first six 3-pointers. The Wildcats were 2 of 15 from 3 in the second half.

“We guarded the heck out of them,” Hoiberg said. “You just gotta try to take it one possession at a time, and we showed that in the second half by getting gritty and getting dirty and finding a way to get stops, and we got out and got it going a little bit.”

The Wildcats also were awful from the foul line, which nearly gave the game away.

Matej Kavas’ second 3-pointer cut it to 60-51. Cross buried his own for 60-54 with 2:26 left, forcing Northwestern coach Chris Collins to call a timeout.

Ryan Young missed the front end of a 1-and-1, as did Pat Spencer with 56 seconds left. Mack banked in a 3-pointer with 48 seconds left to pull NU to within three points, forcing another Collins timeout.

After Pete Nance missed a 3-pointer, Nebraska had a chance to tie the game. Hoiberg called the same play Nebraska ran at the end of regulation at Indiana. On that play a month ago, Burke came off an off-the-ball screen by Ouedraogo and made a 3-pointer to send the game into overtime.

Saturday, Cross set the pick and Burke got a look, but the shot was altered by Spencer. Replays showed potential contact on Burke’s elbow, but no foul was called. The ball fell yards short and Northwestern escaped with its first conference win.

Hoiberg didn’t argue the call postgame. He was more worried about Nebraska’s travel plans. They might have to stay in Chicago because of weather, then travel to Columbus, Ohio, for a matchup Tuesday against No. 11 Ohio State.

“Inconsistency on the defensive end is what cost us tonight,” Hoiberg said. “You got to string together 40 minutes if we want to have a chance to win on the road.”


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