Nebraska rallied to erase two seven-point leads in the second half and led by four with less than a minute remaining, but Luka Barisic’s three-pointer with 6.7 seconds remaining lifted Western Illinois to 75-74 win over the Huskers on Tuesday evening’s season-opener at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Nebraska had chance to win in regulation, but Alonzo Verge Jr. missed a shot at the buzzer, allowing the Leathernecks to escape with a one-point win. Verge posted his first career double-double in defeat with 26 points, a career-high 13 rebounds and five assists.
Freshman Bryce McGowens followed closely behind with 25 points, the most ever by a Husker freshman in his debut, and six boards, but Nebraska shot just 39 percent and was out-rebounded 57-37.
Western Illinois’ Trenton Massner finished with 21 points, including four 3-pointers and eight rebounds, to pace three Leathernecks in double figures. Barisic tallied 12 points and a team-leading nine rebounds, while Will Carius added 11 points for the winners.
Nebraska struggled offensively in the opening half, shooting just 33 percent from the field as Western Illinois took a 33-32 halftime lead after Barisic’s putback to beat the first half buzzer. The Leathernecks shot just 34 percent, but grabbed 12 offensive rebounds that led to a 16-3 advantage in second chance points.
Western Illinois used an early 8-0 run, taking a 13-6 lead after a 3-pointer from Carius with 13:57 left in the half before the Huskers responded. Verge scored seven of his 13 first-half points as the Huskers used a 12-0 spurt over the next 2:12 to build a 18-13 lead.
NU stretched the margin to 24-17 with 6:54 left in the first half after Bryce McGowens recorded five-straight points. The Huskers held the lead until Western Illinois used a 9-5 run, including two second-chance layups, to grab the advantage at the half, 33-32. WIU had 22 second chance points on its 23 offensive boards.
WIU stretched the lead to 39-32 in the first two minutes of the second half before Nebraska scored five straight to get within two, and the game remained within seven the rest of the way. Western Illinois led 59-52 with 10:41 left, but Trey and Bryce McGowens combined for seven straight points, tying the score at 59 after a Trey McGowen free throw with 8:52 left.
Nebraska kept it close and tied it up multiple times before grabbing the lead at 70-69 on a Verge layup with 2:50 left. Nebraska eventually pushed the lead to 73-69 on a free throw from C.J. Wilcher with 35.6 seconds left, but WIU got a long 3-pointer from Massner, who went 4-of-6 from the arc, to pull within one.
Verge was then fouled with 16.6 seconds left, and split the pair to put NU up by two before Barisic’s 3-pointer gave WIU the lead.
The Huskers return to action on Friday evening when they host Sam Houston.