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Amie Just: 1-2 punch of injuries to Bandoumel, Gary too much for Huskers to overcome

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Luke Mullin and Amie Just discuss Nebraska’s aggressive efforts recruiting both the state of Texas, and the transfer portal. Plus, a check-in on both Husker basketball teams.

The first word that came to mind, honestly, is not fit for print.

When my phone buzzed Monday afternoon with the news that Nebraska senior guard Emmanuel Bandoumel’s knee injury from over the weekend was season-ending, my stomach dropped and my heart broke.

Not like this, man. Not like this. A cruel, cruel twist of fate.

Bandoumel didn’t deserve his final season of collegiate basketball to end like this.

In his far-too-brief Nebraska career, the 6-foot-4 Quebec City, Quebec, native averaged 8.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.0 steals per game through his 20 starts. In those games, he averaged 31.1 minutes per game and was routinely tasked with defending the top guards of Nebraska's opponents.

In total, Bandoumel started in 84 consecutive games and played in 100 while scoring 880 career points and tallying 351 rebounds and 160 assists in his four seasons at SMU and Nebraska.

And, not to be a footnote to history, but was among the first Nebrasketball Blackshirts — earning one from athletic director Trev Alberts after Nebraska upset then-No. 7 Creighton in Omaha in December.

“I’ve said all season that Emmanuel is one of the best defenders in the country, and he impacts the game in so many ways beyond the measurables,” coach Fred Hoiberg said in a statement announcing Bandoumel’s injury. “He is also one of the best culture guys I’ve had the pleasure to coach.”

The other Blackshirt?

Junior forward Juwan Gary.

And he, just last week, was ruled out for the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury.

Before Gary went down, he averaged 9.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game in his 17 starts.

Losing Gary was a kick in the teeth, but Bandoumel now too? That's a one-two punch that's going to be too much to overcome — and that’s not a slight to the rest of the roster. It’s just a fact.

When combining Gary’s numbers with Bandoumel’s, that’s 17.9 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.4 steals per game.

That’s a lot of production to suddenly be without.

Hoiberg brought in both Bandoumel and Gary (along with senior guard/forward Sam Griesel) because they were A.) talented, but B.) knew how to win.

Before coming to Nebraska, Bandoumel played in two NITs with SMU and never had a losing season while Gary’s Crimson Tide won an SEC title and made the Sweet 16 in 2021.

They’d been there, done that.

“A lot of times, you either have it or you don't,” Hoiberg said before the season. “I think this group has the grit to help us compete.

“We didn't have a chance to win many ugly games when the ball wouldn't go into the hoop a year ago. But this group, I think, if the ball isn't going in, it's still gonna have a chance to win because of the identity that they're trying to build on the defensive end of the floor. We have the size and that toughness. If you're gonna compete in this league consistently, you have to have the mental toughness to be able to do that.”

With Bandoumel and Gary on the court, Nebraska achieved that.

Without them? The final 11 games of the regular season and the Big Ten tournament could be a slog.

As it stands, there are eight healthy scholarship players: senior forward Derrick Walker, Griesel, junior guard Keisei Tominaga, sophomore guard C.J. Wilcher, sophomore forward Wilhelm Breidenbach, freshman guard/forward Denim Dawson, freshman guard Jamarques Lawrence and freshman center Oleg Kojenets.

Sophomore forward Blaise Keita continues to deal with his high-ankle sprain. Redshirt freshman guard Quaran McPherson is out for the season with a knee injury. Freshman guard Ramel Lloyd Jr. is redshirting this season.

Then there are four walk-ons — redshirt freshman guard Sam Hoiberg, redshirt freshman guard Jeff Grace, freshman guard Cale Jacobsen, freshman forward Henry Burt — and only Hoiberg and Grace have played in a limited fashion this season.

What happens now?

Well, Wilcher’s brief stint as NU’s sixth man likely comes to an end with him, Walker, Griesel, Tominaga and Dawson likely serving as the Huskers’ starting five with Lawrence coming off the bench and playing in a larger role.

No, Nebraska didn’t have the highest of expectations for this season, but with Gary and Bandoumel in the fold, the Huskers were an entertaining bunch to watch at times.

They beat No. 7 Creighton in Omaha. They took No. 4 Purdue to overtime. They beat Iowa for the first time since 2020. They beat Minnesota on the road in overtime.

How rapidly things can change. 

That Minnesota game was a mere 16 days ago.

Whatever happens moving forward, this is a bummer.

Here’s hoping the Huskers can piece together a few more wins before this is all said and done.

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Husker sports reporter/columnist

A Funk native and graduate of Lincoln Southeast, Amie Just joined the Journal Star as sports columnist after spending five seasons covering football for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and the Missoulian in Missoula, Montana.

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