January 5, 2009

NU wraps up non-conference play with 81-56 win

Behind a smothering defense and timely shooting from the perimeter, Nebraska capped off its non-conference schedule with an 81-56 win over Florida A&M Monday night at the Devaney Center.

The Huskers (10-3) connected on 10-of-21 3-pointers (47.6 percent) in the victory, and held the Rattlers (2-10) to just 23 first-half points and only eight 2-point field goals in the entire game.

Junior guard Sek Henry led the way for the Huskers with a team-high 19 points, while senior guards Steve Harley and Paul Velander followed up with 15 and 12 points, respectively. All 12 of Velander's points came on his team-high four 3-pointers.

Defensively, the Huskers held the Rattlers to shoot just 37.7 percent from the field, and the score likely would've looked a whole lot worse had it not been for FAMU's pinpoint shooting from beyond the arc in the second half.

After hitting just three 3's in the first half, the Rattlers exploded with nine treys in the second half. They only made a total of 11 field goals after halftime, meaning all but four of the Rattlers' 33 second-half points came off of 3-pointers.

Dale Hughes (6) and Joe Ballard (4) accounted for 10 of Florida A&M's 12 3's, which stand as the most by an NU opponent this season. Hughes finished with a game-high 20 points, while Ballard ended with 14.

"Overall, I was pleased with our team," head coach Doc Sadler said. "The only part I wasn't pleased with was from about the 15-minute mark to the 11-minute mark in the second half. I felt like our defensive intensity really was not there. It was like we had gotten confused to think the basketball game was over. I had seen these guys on tape go on 12-2 or 14-2 runs, and they even did it tonight with the 3-pointers they hit.

"That was a concern. More than anything, it was the first time all year that we really let our concentration go on the defensive end. I was disappointed, but we came back and picked it up at the 11-minute mark. You have to give them credit, too. They hit some tough, deep 3-point shots that you would normally like for them to shoot."

After another slow start to the game, Nebraska finally got going in the first half behind an 11-3 run with 10 minutes remaining that featured three straight 3-pointers. All together, the Huskers hit 7-of-11 shots (46.7 percent) from beyond the arc on their way to 39-23 lead in the opening half.

Aside from the Rattlers' 3-point barrage, the second half was pretty much more of the same. The Huskers never led by less than 16 points before closing the game with a 17-6 run.

The win marks just the third time this season Nebraska has broken the 80-point mark, though it's now done it in each of the past two games. After struggling through an offensive drought that largely contributed to their three losses, the Huskers finally appear to be getting some confidence back when the ball is in their hands.

"I think the last couple games our offense has been doing a whole lot better," Henry said. "I just think we just keep on running our plays right. Our chemistry is getting a whole lot better. We're starting to know what players are strong at, their strong points, and its helping us right now."

With their non-conference schedule now officially complete, the Huskers turn their attention to their Big 12 opener Saturday against Missouri. At 12-2, the Tigers have opened the season red-hot, and should give Nebraska all it can handle on both ends of the court.

With nearly a week to prepare, though, the Huskers don't appear to have any doubt they'll be ready for the challenge.

"Coach Sadler has been telling us that really a second season is going to start and everyone is going to come hungry that first game," Velander said. "Everyone thinks they have a chance to have postseason play at this point, and so everyone is going to give their best foot forward. We're ready to get started and looking forward to it. As far as being ready, I think there's a lot of parity in the Big 12, but I think we just know we have to come out each night and compete and lay it on the line and have no regrets."

***Just another reminder that Saturday's game against the Tigers has been moved up to start at 1 p.m. The game will still be televised on ESPN2.

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