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March 6, 2013
It was a win over an un-ranked team in a game where both teams hardly cracked 50 points, but it didn't matter one bit.
When the final horn sounded in the final game at the Bob Devaney Sports Center on Wednesday night, fans rushed the court as if Nebraska had just won the national championship.
With a 53-51 victory over Minnesota in which they never trailed, the Huskers had sent out their three seniors - Brandon Ubel, Dylan Talley and Andre Almeida - and the arena they've called home for the past 37 years out as winners.
Ubel had 15 points, Talley had 12 and Almeida played a huge role off the bench in what couldn't have been a more fitting ending to their final home games as Huskers. The win also came with plenty of drama, as it came down to a missed 3-pointer by the Golden Gophers in the final seconds before it was finally all said and done.
All together, Nebraska's seniors combined for 31 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists and four blocks in one of the biggest wins of their careers.
"It's just what we were talking about in the locker room: what a game to be the very last one at the Devaney," Almeida said. "This season has been up and down, but it's about the team, and there's a reason why you wear Nebraska on your chest and your name on your back. It's all about Nebraska. The whole season I've just tried to help my team the best way I could, whether I've been on the court or just cheering from the bench. It's just a great team and a great group of guys."
Said Ubel, when asked where the win ranked in his career: "This is at the top. I mean, close out Devaney, on Senior Night, fans rushing the court - there is no better way to end it and no better game that I've been apart of."
The emotion of the night's festivities definitely showed in the game's first few minutes, as a 3-pointer by Talley quickly put Nebraska up by its biggest lead of the first half at 9-4. The Huskers would hold onto that lead until back-to-back baskets by Minnesota forward Trevor Mbakwe tied it up at 15-15 with just over nine minutes left in the half.
But Nebraska never trailed through the first 20 minutes, and a big part of that was because of the play of Almeida. Having not even scored in a game since NU's win at Penn State back on Feb. 9, Almeida put up four points, three rebounds and two blocks in the first half alone.
His play and seven points from freshman Shavon Shields helped the Huskers go into halftime with a 23-21 lead. Nebraska also held an 18-15 rebounding advantage against the top rebounding team in the Big Ten.
The momentum stayed on Nebraska's side on into the second half, as the Huskers came out of halftime with a 10-3 run capped off by a 3-pointer by Talley take their biggest lead yet at 33-24 with 14 minutes remaining.
As the physical play inside continued, though, fouls started becoming a concern for NU. By the 12-minute mark, the Huskers had five players with two or more fouls, including four for Shields and three on sophomore David Rivers, who both eventually fouled out.
That allowed Minnesota to go to the line 15 times in the second half, and many of its misses resulted in offensive rebounds and put backs that allowed the Gophers to slowly battle back and cut the lead to 36-34 on a pair of free throws by Mbakwe. It also didn't help that Nebraska went nearly a full seven minutes after Talley's 3 without making a field goal and scoring just three points during the stretch.
Minnesota would get it within two points five times over the next four minutes, but each time Nebraska was able to come up with an answer, whether it was a 3 by junior guard Ray Gallegos, a tough And-1 by Ubel or at the free throw line.
The Golden Gophers were finally able tie it up on two free throws by guard Andre Hollins at 46-46, but once again Ubel drove to the rim and picked up a clutch bucket and a foul to reclaim the lead with 2:08 to play.
Hollins missed a 3 on Minnesota's next possession, and Almeida came down with the rebound to give NU a chance to make it a two-score game. However, freshman Benny Parker dribbled a bit too long and had his desperation heave blocked and controlled by the Gophers.
That set up a quick runner in the lane by Hollins that made it 51-48 with 8.4 seconds left on the clock. All Nebraska needed to do was inbound the ball and go to the free throw line, but Gallegos was hit with a five-second violation, giving the ball back to UM.
Maverick Ahanmisi missed a 3-pointer from the corner, and Ubel rebounded and sprinted down the court before being fouled with .09 to go. He knocked down both free throws, and Hollins sank a half-court shot that only mattered in the final box score.
Ubel, who started his 86th career game, ended up scoring Nebraska's final 10 points of the night.
"They were making plays, and we needed someone to step up and make plays," Ubel said. "I wanted the ball in those situations, I wanted to make those plays for our team, and I was fortunate enough to do it."
Ubel's 15 points - all of which coming in the second half - were a game-high and the most he'd scored in Big Ten play this season. Almeida finished wih four points, five rebounds and three blocks in what head coach Tim Miles called his best 18 minutes of the season.
The victory also gives Nebraska some much needed momentum going into its regular season finale at Iowa on Saturday, where it will hope to pick up one last win before heading to the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago next Thursday.
Regardless of how the rest of the season plays out, though, the memories NU's three seniors will keep from Wednesday night will be some they will keep for the rest of their lives.
"They gave me a game ball to present to whoever I felt deserved it at the end of the game, and you start thinking about it, and it's got to go to those three seniors," head coach Tim Miles said. "So I said we're going to paint this ball up, last game in Devaney, and put you guys' name on it, because you deserve it. All three of those guys were special for us."
Around the rim
***As excited as everyone was about the victory, Miles put the game into perspective as to what it meant for the program moving forward.
"It's one game," Miles said. "You don't change momentum, you gain momentum, right? You just gain it little by little by little, and this program has just got to take one step at a time and we've got to find a way to beat Iowa on Saturday afternoon. Then we have to find a way to be effective in the Big Ten Tournament. It's just no bigger than that.
"It's a great win. What a night to celebrate just the historic value of the evening with the last game in Devaney, is awesome. But really, that doesn't give us any more momentum than anything else."
***While it was the first time Nebraska fans were able to rush the floor after a win this season, Miles is no stranger to court storming. He said it might have happened more when he was at Colorado State than any program in the nation.
"We led the country in court storms at CSU," Miles said. "My son was asking me today, 'You think we'll storm the court?' I said, 'They just might. You never know.' Here's what I want you guys to do: I want you to do it in slow motion. I want that to be the new trend. You know how they do the slow-motion wave? Let's do a slow-motion court storming. I think that would be pretty cool. But I just want it to be known it was my idea first, so whoever does it, I want a footnote."
***Before the game tipped off, Almeida was honored with the playing of the Brazilian national anthem over the Devaney sound system.
"I was kind of surprised," Almeida said. "I didn't really know until about a day or two before, but it was nice. It was kind of weird. I was the only one, like they were just playing it for me. There were so many people there and I was the only one who actually knew what was going on. But it was good. I really appreciate it."
***The win was Nebraska's picked up its fifth Big Ten victory of the season and its first win against a top-50 RPI team.
***Nebraska improves to 11-7 at home this season and 447-148 all-time at the Devaney Center.