Nebraska's win over Missouri on Saturday went down to the final second, but it was likely only the beginning for the Huskers.
In their Big 12 Conference season opener, Nebraska backed up a hot start with suffocating defense that held the Tigers - who came in averaging more than 85 points per game - to their lowest point total of the season in a 56-51 victory at the Devaney Center.
Senior guard Ade Dagunduro scored a career-high 20 points to lead the way for NU, while junior guard Ryan Anderson hauled in 10 rebounds to go along with eight points, including three clutch free throws in the final seconds to secure the win.
"I think first of all, league play started today, and that's what you're going to get, close basketball games," head coach Doc Sadler said. "At this time last year, we were down 11 at half and had a chance to win. I told our team the same thing before this game. We might be up 8-10-12 or we may be down 8-10-12, (but) the game is going to come down to the last few minutes. Let's make sure we're there and someone is going to have to make a big play."
After leading by as much as 18 points early in the second half, the Huskers saw their lead erased when junior guard J.T. Tiller scored with 1 minute, 40 seconds remaining in the game to tie the score at 51-51. Junior guard Sek Henry, who finished with 13 points, came up huge on Nebraska's ensuing possession, as he reclaimed the lead at 53-51 on a drive and lay-up through the middle of Missouri's defense with 1:12 to go.
That score would remain until roughly 13 seconds were left on the clock. Sophomore guard Cookie Miller drove to the lane with the shot clock running down and threw up an off-balance lay-up. The shot missed, and so did a put-back attempt by senior guard Steve Harley.
With the ball bouncing loose on the floor, Anderson came up with a huge offensive rebound and was immediately fouled and sent to the line with 10.6 seconds to go. However, Anderson missed the first free throw and hit the second, leaving the Tigers with a chance to tie the game on a last-second 3-pointer.
Sadler said the plan was to foul before Missouri could get the ball down court an try a 3, but the Huskers were unable to get a hand on the Tiger ball handlers, and freshman guard Marcus Denmon ended up with an open look from the left elbow beyond the arc.
The shot bounced off the rim, and Anderson hauled in another crucial rebound and was again fouled and sent to the line. This time he hit both of his free throws, sealing Nebraska's 56-51 upset victory.
"Well, it's better than starting with a loss," Sadler said. "Anytime you want to compete in the league you have to win at home. Missouri is a good team, and if you watch tape, they shouldn't lose much at home and are going to win quite a few on the road. It was big getting this win at home.
Unlike previous games this season, Nebraska couldn't have asked for a much better start than the one they got on Saturday. After opening up with 7-0 run, the Huskers eventually found themselves up 32-18 at halftime, as Missouri was unable to establish any kind of offensive consistency in the first half.
Dagunduro helped provide a spark to NU's fast start, as he scored 12 of his 20 points in the first half, including six of the Huskers' first seven.
With the win, Nebraska not only improves to 11-3 overall and 1-0 in the Big 12, it also gets huge momentum and confidence boosts as the conference schedule continues to get under way.
Considering the fact that they still have 15 more Big 12 games that will likely be just as difficult as Saturday, the Huskers will need all the extra boosts they can get.
"(The players) give us everything they got," Sadler said. "These dudes are going to be worn out. I don't know if I like playing this way, but it's how we are going to have to play."
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