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December 18, 2010It's been a long time since Nebraska has been on a roll like this, going on 13 years now, to be exact.
With a 72-42 win over Eastern Washington on Saturday night, the Huskers picked up their seventh straight victory, marking the longest winning streak under head coach Doc Sadler and the most since the 1997-98 season.
Led by a game-high 14 points from sophomore center Jorge Brian Diaz, Nebraska (9-2 overall) had a season-high 11 players score in the came and overcame a slow start offensively to run away with the win in the second half.
The 42 points were a season-low for the Eagles (3-7), and it marked the seventh straight game NU has held an opponent to less than 60 points, its longest stretch since 1981-82.
"After a week of finals, you're talking about a team (EWU) that's been averaging 75 points a game and playing some good people, and to hold them to 42 points is a credit to our guys," Sadler said. "Overall, for a game that's coming out of finals I think you've got to be pretty happy about it."
The same offensive struggles that had plagued Nebraska earlier in the season reared their ugly heads again in Saturday, as the Huskers went the first four minutes of the game with scoring a point.
A lay-up by senior point guard Lance Jeter finally ended the drought at the 16-minute mark, and it ended up sparking a 15-4 run that put NU up 15-6 with a little less than 10 minutes to play in the half.
After the Eagles cut the lead down to five a few minutes later, the Huskers went on another 9-0 scoring run that gave them their biggest lead of the half at 25-14, and they eventually went into halftime with a 33-22 advantage.
After the slow start, Nebraska ended up shooting 50 percent from the field, but only went 12-of-18 from the free throw line and a hit just 4-of-18 shots from 3-point range. The good news for NU was that Eastern Washington was even worse, shooting just 21.1 percent from the floor for the lowest shooting percentage by an Husker opponent under Sadler.
Nebraska finally got some momentum going offensively in the second half, as it used an 18-4 scoring run early in the half to break the game open and keep it that way the rest of the way.
"I thought at times tonight, it was the best extra one, two passes that we've made," Sadler said. "Especially in the first half, we made the extra one or two passes, and we didn't always make the shot, but we were making the extra pass. If you shoot a better percentage from the 3-point line with the size that we have, I think some good things can happen."
The most exciting aspect of the second half came at the 7:44 mark, when redshirt sophomore center Christopher Niemann checked into the game for the first time in his three years as a Husker.
After battling back-to-back devastating knee injuries that sidelined him the past two seasons, Niemann finally got his chance on Saturday and ended the night with two points, three fouls and a rebound in seven minutes on the court.
It definitely wasn't the most stellar performance, but for Niemann, it was the start he'd waiting years to get.
"If I didn't think this day would come, it wouldn't have been worth it to do all that I've been through," Niemann said. "I knew it would come? It's tough, but you learn something. You get something out of it. It's not the best way to get something, but you definitely learn a lot from all the situations I've been in."
Jeter scored 11 points and junior guard Caleb Walker added 10, while junior guard Toney McCray hauled in a game-high 11 rebounds for the Huskers. Guard Kevin Winford led Eastern Washington with 14 points.
Nebraska returns to action on Tuesday when it plays host to Grambling for its final non-conference game of the season. Should the Huskers win Tuesday, it would mark the first time ever they went undefeated in the month of December.
The Huskers will open Big 12 Conference play at home against Iowa State on Jan. 9.
***To put Niemann's debut into better perspective, his first appearance on Saturday came a whopping 1,126 days since he originally signed his letter-of-intent back in November of 2007.
"It was good to see Christopher Niemann get a few minutes," Sadler said. "I told the team afterwards, I can't imagine what he's gone through basically the three years that he's been here, and it's good to see him get the opportunity to come out here and play."
***Junior guard Brandon Richardson started the game but played just five minutes before exiting to the locker room. Sadler said both Richardson and Diaz had been dealing with a stomach virus this week, but Diaz was able to make it through the entire game.
***Senior guard Drake Beranek made his first start as a Husker on Saturday in place of Walker after Walker missed Thursday's practice with a sore ankle. Sadler said he expected Walker to return to the starting lineup on Tuesday night.