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February 27, 2010It took two overtimes to do it, but Nebraska finally got a big, pestering monkey off its back on Saturday.
After ending regulation and one extra overtime period tied up with Texas Tech, the Huskers made the big plays when it needed to the most and picked up their second Big 12 Conference victory of the season in a 83-79 win over the Red Raiders.
The win snapped a seven-game losing skid and marked NU's first win in the month of February.
"I think more than anything, it's just a relief," head coach Doc Sadler said. "These guys have practiced so hard and played so hard, and they deserve better than what they've gotten. But they've stayed the course? I'm so happy for these guys. You can't say enough. I've said it all year long."
With the game tied up at 71-71 at the end of the first overtime, Nebraska (14-14 overall, 2-12 Big 12) jumped out to an 80-76 lead with 1:51 to play behind seven straight points by senior guard Sek Henry.
Texas Tech (16-12, 4-10) came right back with a deep 3-pointer by guard Nick Okorie with 37.1 seconds left to cut the lead to 81-79, but junior point guard Lance Jeter hit a pair of free throws after Nebraska ran the clock down to 17.6 seconds to go to make it a four-point game.
Okorie heaved up a desperation 3 in the final seconds, but the shot was off the mark and time expired to preserve the win for the Huskers.
"I think we did a better job of running our offense," Sadler said. "This is the best defensive team Texas Tech has had in the six years I've coached against them. We let the offense run, and when we were having success it was running. That's what you've got to do."
The Huskers couldn't have started the game much colder than they were in the opening minutes, as they missed their first four shots and committed three turnovers before finally scoring their first points on a jumper by senior guard Ryan Anderson 3:50 into the game.
The teams traded baskets until Texas Tech guard Brad Reese went off for nine straight points to spark a 17-0 run that gave the Red Raiders a 33-19 lead with a little more than three minutes left to play in the first half.
It wasn't until sophomore guard Brandon Richardson made a lay-up with 2:48 to go that the Huskers finally answered Tech's run and ended a scoring drought that lasted more than seven minutes.
Richardson then hit a 3-pointer and redshirt freshman center Jorge Brian Diaz added a basket to cut the deficit down a little bit to 34-26 heading into halftime.
The second half opened up with more of the same for the Red Raiders, as they eventually built up a 13-point lead at 41-28 on a jumper by Okorie. Just when it seemed the Huskers were destined to make it 13 conference losses on the year, though, the breaks finally started going their way for once.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Nebraska put together a 23-2 run over the next 10 minutes that gave them their largest lead to that point at 55-47 after a basket by junior forward Quincy Hankins-Cole with 6:27 remaining.
The Huskers bumped their lead up to 60-52 with 4:34 to play on a 3-pointer by freshman forward Brandon Ubel, but the Red Raiders were eventually able to tie the game at 60-60 at the 1:15 mark on a 3 by Reese.
Henry hit a pair of free throws after being fouled with the shot clock and game clock winding down to put NU up by two with 42 seconds left, but D'walyn Roberts got a wide-open lay-up under the basket to tie it with 30 seconds.
Following a timeout by Nebraska with 23 seconds left, Richardson held the ball for the final shot, but his jumper at the buzzer was off the mark, sending the game into overtime locked up at 62-62.
Once again, Texas Tech came out of the break with the early momentum, as another 3 by Okorie and a basket by senior forward Mike Singletary gave the Red Raiders a 69-64 lead with 2:44 left in the first overtime.
Needing to come up with some big plays, Ubel and Henry answered the call, as Ubel converted a 3-pointer the old fashioned way and Henry followed with a trey from the top of the key to give NU the lead again at 70-69 with 1:37 on the clock.
Tech's John Roberson hit two free throws with 30 seconds left to take back the lead, and the Huskers called a timeout with 26 seconds left to hold the ball for the final possession.
With 7.3 remaining, Jeter drove to the lane and was fouled by Reese, giving him a chance to tie or take the lead. Jeter missed his first attempt, but hit the second to tie the game at 71-71, and Roberson had an open jumper at the buzzer come up short to send the game in its second OT.
This time, it was the Huskers who came out firing, as Henry scored seven straight points to give them an 80-76 lead with 1:51 left in the game. Okorie kept it close with a long 3-pointer with 37 seconds, but Jeter hit 3-of-4 free throws in the final 43.8 seconds to give to keep the Red Raiders at bay.
"We've had so many of these that could have gone either way, and I think there were probably three times in this ball game that they could have went the other way again," Sadler said. "It's not going to do anything but help. Winning helps a lot of things."
Henry ended the day with a season-high 21 points along with six assists and five rebounds. Richardson finished with 15 points, and Ubel added 14 on 5-of-6 shooting from the field off the bench.
Okorie led the way for Texas Tech with a career-high 28 points, including six 3-pointers, while Reese ended with 19.
The Huskers won't have much time to celebrate their win, as they come right back and play host to Colorado on Tuesday night for their final home game of the season. With just one more chance to end their collegiate careers on a high note, Henry and Anderson said they're hoping Saturday's win would be the spark they've been waiting for to make one last run.
"We're just going to have to take it a game at a time," Anderson said. "Next game is Senior Night. It's going to be an emotional night. After putting so much work into the program and giving so much, and that being the last home game, it's kind of like a farewell. Hopefully this can snowball and this stuff can just carry over and we can maybe do something in the tournament."
Henry comes up huge
Whenever Nebraska needed someone to step up and make a big shot, it seemed Henry was always there to answer the call.
With 21 points on 6-of-11 shooting, the Los Angeles native was one of the biggest reasons the Huskers were able to hang on through regulation and two overtime periods to get a desperately needed victory.
Considering the ups and downs Henry has gone through this season, Saturday couldn't have ended any better.
"I was just trying to be aggressive," Henry said. "I know I've been struggling. I've been having a rollercoaster (season), and the last few times it's been really, really low. I haven't really produced anything but just defense. It just seemed like today I could just feel like the team needed my help, and I just tried to help out overall and hit big shots and whatever I had to do to help this team win."
Recently, things had been pretty low for Henry. Not only had his season scoring average dropped to 7.4 points per game, but he also was beginning to get on the bad side of NU fans because of his tendency to disappear offensively in big games or make costly mistakes late in games.
On Saturday, though, Henry was the senior leader everyone had hoped he'd be all season long.
"I'm just so happy for that dude," Anderson said. "I just stayed in his ear and encouraged him as much as I could. He really stepped up big time today. He hit big shots. I've been playing with Sek for four years, ad like he said, it's been a rollercoaster type thing. But Sek led us to the victory today. We road his back."
Earlier this season, Henry expressed some of his frustration with fans leaving early during games when the Huskers were losing, allowing opposing fans to essentially take over the Devaney Center for the final minutes.
However, Henry made it a point to start off his post-game interview, before anything else, by thanking the 7,334 fans in attendance at the Devaney Center for their support, even though the team has failed to live up to anyone's expectations.
"I really want to thank the fans today," Henry said. "Their energy and intensity towards the end of the game, it really helped put energy in our team. I really believe that, because things were going not so good for us for a second, and then we made a big play and they get into it. Even at the free throw line, they missed a couple of free throws towards the end because of how loud it was. I just really want to appreciate the fans tonight."