The Husker basketball team returns to action after one of its longest breaks of the season, as Nebraska travels to Georgia Tech for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge presented by Continental Tire Wednesday evening.
Tipoff at McCamish Pavilion on the Georgia Tech campus is set for 6:15 p.m. (central) and the matchup between the Huskers and Yellow Jackets will be televised on ESPNU with Mike Monaco and Malcolm Huckaby on the call.
Nebraska (4-3) put together a gutsy effort in its last outing, rallying from seven points down in the final 12:39 in posting a 74-67 win over South Florida in the third-place game in the Cayman Islands Classic on Nov. 27. Haanif Cheatham capped a strong tournament performance with a career-high 26 points, while Dachon Burke Jr. added 21 points, including a pair of 3-pointers after the Bulls cut Nebraska’s eight-point lead to one. The Huskers also turned in a strong defensive effort, holding USF to just 36 percent shooting in the second half.
Cheatham, who played in just 10 games last year at Florida Gulf Coast before shoulder surgery, has rebounded nicely after a slow start in his final collegiate season. He is averaging 16.0 points per game on 67 percent shooting over the Huskers’ last five contests. He has four double-figure performances in that stretch, culminating with the performance against South Florida.
The Huskers have performed well in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, going 5-3 all-time, including a 3-1 mark in road games since joining the Big Ten prior to the 2011-12 campaign.
Georgia Tech is 3-2 on the season following a 68-65 win over Bethune-Cookman on Sunday. In that game, Michael Davoe had a game-high 27 points, while James Banks III (12 points, 10 rebounds, 8 blocks) and Moses Wright (12 points, 12 rebounds) both put up double-doubles for the winners. The Yellow Jackets have played their share of close games, as four of their five contests have been decided by four points or less.
Dachon Burke Jr. is among the Big Ten leaders with steals at 1.3 per game. He has averaged 1.8 steals per game during his collegiate career including his two seasons at Robert Morris. Burke’s five steals against George Mason marked the fourth time in his career he has had five-or-more steals in a game.
NUMBERS TO KNOW
4 – Double-digit performances from Kevin Cross, which is the most by a Husker freshman since 2016-17 (5-Jeriah Horne and 4-Jordy Tshimanga). Cross is fourth among Big Ten freshmen in scoring at 9.4 ppg entering this week’s action.
5 – Three-pointers this season for Thorir Thorbjarnarson, as he is 5-of-12 from long range. In his first two seasons, he went a combined 6-of-28 behind the 3-point stripe.
6.0 – Assists per game for sophomore Cam Mack, which is on pace to be the highest average since Brian Carr averaged 6.7 assists per game in 1986-87.
7 – Nebraska has had seven players reach double-figures in the first seven games of the season. Nebraska has five players averaging at least nine points per game, including four in double figures.
50- Returning point total from last season, all by Thorir Thorbjarnarson. That is the lowest by any power conference team since the 2009-10 season.
80.5 – Nebraska’s scoring average since the opening-night loss to UC Riverside. The Huskers have scored 70-or-more points in five of their last six contests.
SCOUTING GEORGIA TECH
Georgia Tech comes into Wednesday’s game with a 3-2 mark after holding off Bethune-Cookman, 68-65 on Sunday. In that game, Michael Devoe’s three-point play with seven seconds left broke a 65-all tie and capped a 27-point performance, only earning the win after Leon Redd’s 3-point try at the buzzer bounced off the rim for Bethune-Cookman.
Josh Pastner is in his fourth season at the helm of the Georgia Tech program and guided the Yellow Jackets to an NIT finals appearance in his first season at the school, but the 22 wins that season were vacated by the NCAA Committee on Infractions. The Yellow Jackets went 14-18 in 2018-19 and finished 10th in the ACC with a 6-12 mark. Prior to taking over at Georgia Tech, Pastner led Memphis to five postseason appearances in seven years at the school, including a pair of appearances in the round of 32.
Georgia Tech returns its top three scorers from last season and its starting lineup from its final two games of the 2018-19 season. In all, 11 letterwinners returned and the program added a pair of transfers to the lineup. The Yellow Jackets were picked to finish 12th in the preseason ACC poll. In the first month of the season, Georgia Tech been in its share of close games, as the two losses are by a combined five points, while GT also has a one-point overtime win over North Carolina State.
For Georgia Tech, it starts with a pair of guards and one of the ACC’s top defensive players. Devoe has been one of the ACC’s most prolific scorers in the first month of the year, averaging a conference-best 23.4 points per game, including a national-best 62 percent from 3-point range. He has four 20-point games already, including a season-high 34-point performance against Georgia. Junior point guard Jose Alvarado led Georgia Tech in scoring (12.5 ppg), assists (3.4 apg) and steals (1.8 spg) last season, but was averaging just 6.0 ppg in the first two games while playing through an ankle injury. His status for Wednesday’s game is unknown. Senior forward James Banks III is a force in the middle, averaging 13.4 points, 9.6 rebounds and 5.2 blocks per game to lead the nation in that category. Banks already has three double-doubles in Georgia Tech’s first five games.
Series History: The teams have met only once previously, a 66-49 Georgia Tech win in the first round of the Cotton States Classic in Atlanta. Dave Hoppen led NU with 19 points, but was the only Husker to finish in double figures.
LAST TIME OUT
Haanif Cheatham scored a career-high 26 points while Dachon Burke Jr. hit two crucial 3-pointers in the final 3:34, as Nebraska took third place in the Cayman Islands Classic with a 74-67 win over South Florida on Nov. 27.
Cheatham hit 8-of-11 from the field and 9-of-11 from the line as he eclipsed his previous career best of 24 set as a freshman at Marquette. Cheatham, who averaged 19.3 ppg on 70 percent shooting in three games, earned a spot on the all-tournament team.
While Cheatham enjoyed a career night, Burke stepped up after South Florida ran off seven straight points to trim an eight-point Husker lead to 63-62. The junior guard hit a long 3-pointer from the wing to snap the run and stretch the lead to four. South Florida was within 66-63 before Burke’s second 3-pointer with 1:59 left made it a six-point cushion, capping a season-high 21-point performance for the junior guard.
USF made one last charge and was within 71-67 before the Huskers sealed the win by going 3-of-4 from the line with Cheatham icing the game with a pair of free throws with 13 seconds left. In all, the Huskers were 14-of-19 from the foul line in moving to 4-3 on the season.
Nebraska shot 55 percent from the floor, including 6-of-14 from 3-point range, while holding South Florida (3-4) to 39 percent, including 36 percent in the second half.
NEBRASKA BIG TEN/ACC CHALLENGE PRIMER
The 2019-20 season marks the 21st edition of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge presented by Continental Tire. The Big Ten is 5-12-3 all-time in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, but 5-2-3 over the last decade. In case of a tie, the Cup remains with the conference that won the event most recently (in this case the ACC in 2017). The two conferences went 7-7 last season.
• Nebraska is 5-3 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge since joining the Big Ten in the 2011-12 season and joins Purdue (10-8) as the only two Big Ten programs with winning records.
• Nebraska has won five of its last seven challenge games, including road wins at Wake Forest (2012), at Florida State (2015) and Clemson (2018) along with the home wins over Miami (2013) and Boston College (2017).
• Of Nebraska’s three losses, two have been by two points (55-53 to Wake Forest in 2011; 60-58 at Clemson in 2016) while the other one was a 77-72 overtime loss to Miami in 2015.
• Nebraska’s current two-game win streak is the longest of any Big Ten program.
• NU’s three road wins ranks second among Big Ten programs, despite not joining the conference until 2011.