Nebraska’s Christmas Story had an all-too-familiar ending against No. 19 Michigan on Thursday night.
After a strong first half, the Huskers once again saw their opponent go off on a second-half offensive tear, this time a 17-6 Wolverine run after halftime that put NU behind for good in an 80-69 defeat.
Nebraska (4-5 overall, 0-2 Big Ten) was able to rally back and trim a 13-point deficit down to four with 6:20 remaining, but Michigan (7-0, 2-0) made one clutch play after another down the stretch to hold onto the victory.
Teddy Allen scored 25 points on 22 shots while Dalano Banton had 17 on 16 attempts to lead the Huskers, but that wasn’t enough to keep up with a UM team that shot 50 percent from the field.
Allen was Nebraska’s offense through the first 20 minutes, as he scored 21 of his 25 points – including 14 of NU’s first 18 – in the first half on 8-of-17 points.
But no other Husker had more than six points at the break, and Michigan kept pace by shooting 45.5 percent from the field to go into halftime with a 36-34 lead. The Wolverines were just 4-of-17 on 3-pointers in the half but made up for it by shooting 68.7 percent inside the arc.
Allen’s 21 marked the most points in a half by an NU player since James Palmer had 27 against Rutgers in the 2019 Big Ten Tournament.
Trey McGowens then scored Nebraska’s first seven points to start the second half, but Michigan was still able to jump out to a 53-41 lead by making its first six shots from the field – including all three 3-pointers – after halftime.
The Wolverines would eventually push their lead up to as much as 13 with 11 minutes remaining. Unlike in previous losses, though, the Huskers fought back with an 11-2 run and pulled within 64-60 with 6:20 still to play.
But NU only managed to make three of its final 10 shots and went 2-for-5 from the free-throw line the rest of the way to end the comeback.
McGowens scored all 15 points of his points in the second half to keep Nebraska close, while Yvan Ouedraogo chipped in six points and six rebounds.
Michigan had five players finish in double figures, led by 20 and nine boards from Franz Wagner, 17 from Isaiah Livers, and 13 and 15 rebounds from Hunter Dickinson.
Nebraska will return to action on Wednesday when it travels to take on No. 23 Ohio State for a 5:30 p.m. CT tip.
1. The second-half collapses must be fixed
Nebraska has shown all season that it can play with anyone for the first 20-25 minutes of a game.
The problem has been the following 10 minutes. For whatever reason, the effort and execution that made the Huskers so successful disappear, and opponents break the games open with massive scoring runs.
Head coach Fred Hoiberg said after the game that “it has been a theme for us” where great defensive efforts vanish for a stretch, and it impacts NU’s play on both ends of the floor.
Even when Nebraska was able to chip away at its 13-point deficit and make it a two-possession game late in the second half, a few more bad bounces extinguished the Huskers’ fight.
Hoiberg said it would probably take NU winning one of these close games to build the confidence to keep playing hard through adversity.
Right now, Nebraska is a team that goes into a shell when the pressure rises, and that’s going to make for a brutal next 18 games if it continues.
2. Nebraska got the full Teddy Allen experience tonight
Known for his quick trigger and willingness to shoot from just about anywhere past half court, Allen felt it from the opening tip through the halftime buzzer.
The second half, however, was a completely different story. Michigan clamped down on Allen after the break and held him to just four points on 1-of-5 shooting and two turnovers in 16 minutes of work.
Allen’s one make was a desperation turn-around 3-pointer that banked in off the glass.
Hoiberg said he saw the rest of the Huskers almost standing around and watching as Allen took the game over in the first half. When the Wolverines removed him from the equation, not nearly enough reinforcements stepped up.
Allen is a player who can get hot and be the most productive scorer on the floor in any given game. As we saw on Friday, though, he can just as quickly go ice could.
Nebraska can’t get caught sitting back and hoping Allen can carry it for 40 minutes because that’s a ride that likely won’t end well.
3. McGowens needs to be the tone-setter
The only reason Michigan’s 11-point victory didn’t end up even more lopsided was the effort McGowens showed in the second half.
While the rest of the team was scrambling to find a spark after Allen went cold, McGowens took the game into his own hands on both ends of the floor.
He scored NU’s first seven points to start the second half, and after Michigan went on a 17-6 run to go up 13, the junior guard had eight of NU’s next 15 points to get the game back to within two possessions.
The Huskers have been a streaky team all year, but McGowens’ fight has been among the few constants. Even when he’s not scoring, he’s been their best defender and the one player able to go right at opposing teams to change momentum.
Nebraska needs to feed off of McGowens and replicate his determination, especially when times get tough late in games.
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