By Jacob Bigelow
If Wisconsin had the game in the bag, somebody forgot to tell Nebraska.
The Huskers rallied from a 17-point second-half deficit on Saturday at Pinnacle Bank Arena, pushed the game into overtime and dominated from there, winning 73-63.
Perhaps the only one more perplexed than the stunned Wisconsin players was Husker coach Fred Hoiberg, who was still trying to process the improbable comeback in his post-game media conference.
Asked for his initial thoughts, Hoiberg had no words.
“I can’t,” Hoiberg said with an ear-to-ear grin. “I’m just gonna get up and leave and say it was a lot of fun.”
Yes it was.
- It was NU’s largest come-from-behind win since 2013 (Iowa, 19 points).
- It was NU’s third-largest comeback since the start of the 1996-97 season.
- It was NU’s largest second-half comeback since at least 1997-98.
Down 35-24 at halftime, things looked bleak for the Huskers. At that point, they were 1 of 8 from 3-point range and had only one assist.
The hole only got deeper to start the second half. Wisconsin started with an 8-2 run and took its biggest lead at 43-26 with 17 minutes to play.
Husker fans who turned the channel would be kicking themselves by Saturday evening.
Keisei Tominga splashed back-to-back 3-pointers. Derrick Walker made a lay-up. Sam Griesel capitalized on an and-one. Blaise Keita scored his only points of the game. Tominaga again hit back-to-back 3s.
Suddenly, NU had its first lead of the game.
It was all part of a 20-2 run that stretched into overtime. The Huskers (12-14, 5-10 Big Ten) finished on a 12-0 run and outscored Wisconsin (14-10, 6-8) 12-2 in overtime.
Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said his team got what it deserved.
“I was really brutally honest with them,” he said of his locker room address. “It was Jekyll and Hyde between who we were in the first half defensively (and) who we were in the second half.”
The Badgers’ sin, he said, was allowing Tominaga, who scored 17 of his 22 points after halftime, to catch fire.
“It started with too much fouling,” Gard said. “We fouled too much in the first half. That gives the team confidence to get to the free throw line and then Tominaga – I’ll give him credit, he’s had some tough shots, but it’s not surprising because that’s how he plays.”
But it wasn’t a one-man show.
- Griesel stuffed the stat sheet with 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
- Walker scored 18 points, grabbed eight rebounds and often had his way down low against Badger big men. Example: He had six of Nebraska’s 12 points in overtime.
- Jamarques Lawrence scored 11 points, and his athleticism was a clear problem for Wisconsin guards.
Who got the gameball?
Little used to this point – Keita had played just 22 minutes since Dec. 29 because of an ankle injury – the big-man clocked almost 23 minutes, all in the second half or overtime, pulling down a game-high 11 rebounds to go with two steals and two points.
“I’m so proud of him,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a guy that has gone through a lot this year with the injuries. He got hurt in the Queens game with a high-ankle sprain. He has really struggled with that from a timing standpoint.”
That may be about to change.
For the first time, Hoiberg played his two bigs together, sliding the 6-foot-9 Walker to the 4 spot and playing the 6-11 Keita at the 5.
“We have been working on the big-big lineup for this exact situation, when (the opponent) had two good post players. It allowed us to go one-on-one in the post.”
Wisconsin, which gets much of its work done down low, had no answer – Nebraska outrebounded the Badgers 43-37 – and Walker went to work offensively, most notably in overtime.
“We were in a close game,” Walker said. “We were in overtime and someone needed to score. … Whether it is me or somebody else I am just happy we capitalized on our moments and did what we had to do to finish the game.”