With final exams out of the way for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, it was apparent the rust needed to be shaken off before heading into Big Ten play in less than 10 days. Pinnacle Bank Arena has been labeled as one of the most raucous venues in the country, but a pesky Samford squad persevered through the hostility to upset the Cornhuskers. Let's dive in to how Nebraska and Rutgers faired in their respective games.
Game of the Night: Samford 69, Nebraska Cornhuskers 58
In a game that clearly looked like two programs coming off finals week, the Samford Bulldogs exhibited a clear understanding of Nebraska's weak spot: spread the court and attack the rim against a Cornhuskers team that lacks an established rim protector.
The majority of the first half consisted of Nebraska having more turnovers than attempted shots. The young Cornhuskers were stymied by a 2-3 zone that clogged up the paint, and also fell victim of three charges called against them.
Nebraska led 30-26 at halftime due to Shavon Shields' ability to get in the paint and hit multiple midrange shots. Junior guard Andrew White III chipped in with multiple three pointers from the baseline and had a solid effort on the glass. The Cornhuskers limped into halftime with a 30-26 lead, and shot a quiet 52 percent from the field, but were haunted with 11 turnovers.
Samford came out like barnstormers in the second half by embarking on a 23-6 run right out of the gate. Not only did the Bulldogs put on an impressive display off offensive dominance, but they clamped down on the defensive end and making it difficult for Shields and White III in particular.
The Bulldogs' offensive adjustments were perfect for a Cornhuskers team that is young and thin up front. Head coach Scott Padgett and his staff formulated a "four corners" style of play for most of the second half and had one post player. Nebraska struggled against the spread out approach and got burned multiple times with a screen and roll or just simply guarding the post.
Sophomore guard Christen Cunningham led Samford in the scoring column with 20 on 5-for-11 from the field and a perfect 8-for-8 from the charity stripe. Reserve guard Matt Rose sparked the Bulldogs and revived them from a field goal drought of 10 minutes with two corner threes that put the game away.
Nebraska fell victim of not having a third scorer to help Shields and White III. The dynamic duo accounted for 42 of the team's 58 points. Shields finished with 25 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals, while White III notched a double-double of 17 points and 11 rebounds. Tai Webster was the third leading scorer with seven points.
Starting point guard Benny Parker left the game late in the second half due to a head injury, which served as a crucial turning point as the Huskers were down their lead ball handler.
Nebraska has one more non-conference game before diving into the start of the conference play. The Cornhuskers will go up against Prairie View A&M on Tuesday, December 22nd at 8:00 p.m..
-Monmouth 73, Rutgers Scarlet Knights 67
The battle between the underclassmen laden Scarlet Knights and the upstart Monmouth Eagles started out as a defensive tussle that featured an array of blocks, rebounds and forced turnovers. Both offenses got off to shaky starts, but once Monmouth's Justin Robinson settled into a grove, his teammates followed suit.
Robinson was terrific in engineering the Eagles offense - particularly the fast break -- and generating his own points against Corey Sanders in one-on-situations. In what was an entertaining matchup of dynamic point guards, Robinson used his elusiveness and a solid shooting display to generate a 10 point lead for the Eagles.
Monmouth's bench isn't only useful for celebratory poses and antics - the Eagle's reserves tallied an impressive 35 points, which is just shy of 50 percent of the team's point total. 6-7 junior Collin Stewart led the nationally recognized bench with 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting. Zach Tillman (5), Diago Quinn (5), Josh James (8) and Austin Tilgham (6) also tallied points to help Monmouth outscore the Rutgers bench 35-15.
Rutgers trailed 37-31 at halftime and managed to claw their way back into the contest by getting back in transition defense and limiting the amount of fast break points for the Eagles in the second half. The Hawks generated three separate 13-point leads, but a 17-4 Rutgers run managed to tie the game 65-65. Senior guard Bishop Daniels served as the catalyst for the comeback bid by scoring all 12 of his points in the second half. Monmouth came into the game shooting over 80 percent from the free throw line as a team, but was able to help Rutgers keep it close by shooting 11-for-20 (55 percent).
Corey Sanders led the Scarlet Knights with 16 points and four assists, while sophomore guard Mike Williams tallied another impressive outing with 15 points. The frontcourt for Rutgers was solid on the glass, as DJ Foreman notched 11 rebounds, while Greg Lewis tallied 10. The shooting woes for the Scarlet Knights continued, as they shot just over 30 percent from the field and 31 percent from behind the arc.
Rutgers is back in action at the RAC Wednesday, December 23 as they take on Fairleigh Dickinson at 7 p.m..