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'A different element': Trey McGowens' return gives Huskers lift despite defeat

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Nebraska vs. Indiana, 1.17

Nebraska's Trey McGowens (2) is shown with Bryce McGowens (5) during a game against Indiana on Monday at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

Trey McGowens' quiet nature belies the fire with which he plays on the basketball court. 

It wasn't long in the junior guard's return to action Monday night that he was mixing it up with Indiana guard and former Nebraska commit Xavier Johnson, one of McGowens' teammates at Pitt before both players transferred. 

He exhorted the crowd when Nebraska tried to rally. He provided a physical presence on NU's defensive perimeter that has been sorely missing since he broke his foot against Creighton on Nov. 16.

He looked like a player that was itching to get back on the floor.

"Basketball is what I've really done my whole life. I'd say my life pretty much revolves around basketball — (I'm) in the gym two or three times a day," McGowens said Monday night. "So just being able — once you lose that, it just makes you appreciate it even more."

Monday's home loss to Indiana marked almost exactly two months since McGowens, perhaps Nebraska's most important player, went to the bench 10 minutes into that Creighton game after landing awkwardly on his right foot.

What followed was surgery, and eight weeks of rehab as his Nebraska teammates fell into a hole that has left NU looking up at the rest of the Big Ten.

"The first day was kind of rough, just because I was like, 'Aw, I’ve got eight more weeks of it,'" McGowens recalled of his rehab. "And then the last week just because I’m able to work out, and I’m feeling good working out, but still having to do the two and a half, three hours rehab. It was definitely frustrating."

This isn't to say Nebraska's season is going to magically turn around with McGowens back on the floor.

He was playing when Nebraska lost to Western Illinois to open the season. He was on the floor when the Huskers fell behind Creighton by 19 points before he was hurt.

But the Huskers have started to shoot the ball better over the last month. And there's a decent argument to be made that McGowens could have been the difference in at least a few of NU's close losses over the past two months.

Put simply, Nebraska has a better chance at winning now than it did without McGowens on the floor.

"Trey just gives us a whole different element out there," Hoiberg said. "Being able to put him on the ball, or on the other team’s best player. And that’s going to be huge for us moving forward."

McGowens' teammates certainly seemed glad to have him back.

Lat Mayen gave McGowens a bear hug when he checked in about four minutes into Monday's game. Shortly after, Kobe Webster found him for a deep three that found nothing but the bottom of the net.

McGowens said he felt good after playing 21 minutes — about the maximum he was going to be allowed to play in his first game back. Pool workouts helped him keep his stamina. Shooting in a chair or with his injured foot propped up on a scooter during his rehab helped him hone in on his mechanics.

And while he came off the bench Monday, odds are Nebraska would like to get him back in the starting lineup sooner rather than later.

"But having Trey out there was a great lift," Hoiberg said. "You see how much better you are with his intensity, with his passion, with his leadership on the defensive end of the floor."

Contact the writer at cbasnett@journalstar.com or 402-473-7436. On Twitter @HuskerExtraCB.

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