Jervay Green

Nebraska's Jervay Green, left, and UC Riverside's Zac Watson chase after a ball on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019, during the Huskers season opener at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska.

LINCOLN — The college basketball gods dealt a cruel, ironic hand to Fred Hoiberg on Tuesday night, with a barrage of 3-pointers ruining his return to college basketball.

UC Riverside — a 15-point underdog — hit seven 3s in the first eight minutes of the second half to put Nebraska in a 15-point hole that it couldn’t escape in a 66-47 defeat at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

And for the first time since 1980, with the highest-paid coach in Nebraska basketball history, on a brand-new court in what was supposed to be a new chapter for this historically snake-bitten program, Nebraska lost its season home opener.

“You can make the excuses: new faces, new players,” Hoiberg said. “We’re not gonna do that. We got outplayed today.”

NU was outrebounded by 20 by a team that ranked 167th in college basketball last year in rebounding margin. Without last year’s leading scorer, Dikymbe Martin, the Highlanders controlled the pace and shot 41.8% from the floor.

Against a team that won 10 games a season ago and was picked this season to finish near the bottom of the Big West Conference, Nebraska found zero offensive rhythm and couldn’t reverse the momentum once it shifted.

Hoiberg was known for coaching some of the best shooting teams in the country at Iowa State, but his first Nebraska team shot 29.1% from the floor and just 23.1% in the second half. The Huskers made 9 of 19 free throws. Just 6 of 26 (23.1%) from 3-point range

Nebraska made seven of 11 shots to start the game, then made nine of its next 44.

“Confidence is a funny thing in this game. When you have it, that rim seems like the ocean,” Hoiberg said. “When not, it looks like a little thimble up there.”

UC Riverside was tossing rocks into the Pacific for most of the game, making 15 of 25 shots from the five-minute mark in the first half to the five-minute mark in the second half, never missing more than three in a row.

NU sprung out to a 14-7 lead behind Cam Mack, who ended up leading Nebraska in points (11), rebounds (9) and assists (3). Mack hit a 3-pointer and facilitated the Huskers in the fast break early. Fans gave the team a standing ovation at the first TV timeout.

Then UC Riverside attacked.

Two 3-pointers by DJ McDonald gave the Highlanders a six-point lead late in the first.

After a last-second tip-in by Dragan Elkaz, Riverside led 32-28 at halftime.

McDonald finished with a team-high 15 points. Elkaz added 14.

Mack came out of the half swinging, with a tough take to the hoop, but he missed the shot and the tip-in. Elkaz hit a 3-pointer on Riverside’s first possession, and an eight-point lead began to balloon.

“I think they went on their run, and their run caught us off guard,” said NU senior Haanif Cheatham, who finished with just one point, two rebounds and three assists.

NU freshman forward Yvan Ouedraogo cut the deficit to five with a bucket off a spin move. But McDonald canned two straight 3-pointers, both near the end of the shot clock. Hoiberg, exasperated, called a timeout while a nervous murmur spread across PBA. But the pep talk about calming down and taking it possession by possession couldn’t stop the bleeding.

The fifth 3-pointer of the half — this one from Dominick Pickett — pushed Riverside’s lead to 47-32.

Nebraska forced shots in the lane and turned the ball over with sloppy passes. Its deficit went to 18 after Elkaz’s third 3-pointer on the night.

“We pressed, tried to get it all back at once,” Hoiberg said.

Hoiberg has said for weeks that his team — thrown together with 11 new scholarship players from five countries — doesn’t respond well to tough situations.

Tuesday was proof.

“You don’t really know until you go through it, and now that we’ve been through it, gotta figure a way to get back out there and find a way to battle through it better,” Hoiberg said.

The loss is another in a string of casualties in the Nebraska athletics world. On a night when fans needed a reprieve from a 4-5 football team in the midst of another disappointing season, they were met with a brand-new team and a brand-new but familiar sore.

With 3:59 left, and Nebraska down 19 to the 15-point underdog, thousands of fans cleared out the arena. With each trudge up the steps to the concourse, the looks on the faces were the same as 10 months ago with a different coach.

The answers back then seemed simpler.

NEBRASKA (0-1)

FG FT RB PF A Min TP

Mack 4-13 1-2 9 1 3 32 11

Ouedraogo 4-6 1-4 3 1 1 21 9

Burke 2-7 3-4 2 0 0 23 4

Green 2-9 0-2 2 5 2 33 5

Cheatham 0-3 1-2 2 0 3 26 1

Kavas 3-5 2-3 1 1 1 25 10

Cross 1-10 1-2 3 2 0 14 4

Thorbjarnarson 0-0 2-3 4 0 1 15 0

Curtis 0-1 1-2 0 1 1 9 0

Arop 0-1 0-0 1 0 0 1 0

Easley 0-0 0-0 1 0 0 1 0

Totals 16-55 9-19 29 11 12 200 47

3-point shots (6-26) — Mack 2-5, Burke 0-3, Green 1-5, Cheatham 0-2, Kavas 2-3, Cross 1-6, Curtis 0-1, Arop 0-1.

Team rebounds — 1. Turnovers — 11. Shot percent — 29.1

UC RIVERSIDE (1-0)

FG FT RB PF A Min TP

Elkaz 5-9 0-0 5 4 0 31 14

Willborn 6-11 0-0 18 4 2 30 13

Pickett 2-7 4-5 1 2 0 25 10

McRae 4-9 1-1 6 4 2 30 9

Kabellis 1-6 0-0 2 0 2 16 2

McDonald 4-6 3-3 2 1 0 23 15

Pullin 1-4 0-0 0 1 2 26 3

Watson 0-3 0-0 12 2 4 19 0

Totals 23-55 8-9 49 18 12 200 66

3-point shots (12-25) — Elkaz 4-8, Willborn 1-2, Pickett 2-4, Kabellis 0-1, McDonald 4-6, Pullin 1-3, Watson 0-1.

Team rebounds — 3. Turnovers — 18. Shot percent — 41.8

UC Riverside 32 34—66

At Nebraska 28 19—47

A: 15,745. Officials: Steve Honacki, Chris Beaver, Lamont Simpson.

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Chris Heady covers Husker football and is the Nebraska men's basketball beat writer. He started at The World-Herald in 2017. Follow him on Twitter @heady_chris. Email: chris.heady@owh.com.

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