February 24, 2009

Last-second 3 downs Huskers in 57-55 heartbreaker

Ade Dagunduro couldn't find the words to try and comfort his teammates in the locker room following Nebraska's gut-wrenching 57-55 loss to Texas A&M on Tuesday night.

That could probably go for the rest of the Huskers as well. No one could quite explain how they lost this game.

With 2.6 seconds left on the clock and NU leading 55-54, Aggie senior Josh Carter came off a screen and was wide-open at the top of the key for a 3-pointer. Nebraska's Sek Henry nearly got a hand on the shot, but he came up just short, as Carter drilled a trey as time expired to give the Huskers arguably their most devastating loss of the season.

"I can't even give this the No 1 title (of his worst loss)," Dagunduro said. "This is beyond No. 1. I've never felt like this before. I had a tough time talking to the guys. Being a senior leader, I couldn't even gather words to say, so I just patted everybody on the back, because I wasn't prepared for this situation."

After leading by seven at halftime, Nebraska (16-10 overall, 6-7 Big 12 Conference) led by as many at 18 points on two separate occasions in the second half. However, like it has numerous times in the past, NU's offense went stagnant, this time probably worse than ever.

Leading 44-26 with 16:55 to play, the Huskers failed to make a field goal for nearly 11 whole minutes, as they only had four free throws to show during the stretch. As a result, the Aggies (20-8, 6-7) were slowly able to chip away at the deficit and eventually cut the score to 50-45 with 7:52 remaining.

With less than 2 minutes to go, A&M's Derrick Roland and B.J. Holmes hit a jumper and a 3-pointer respectively to cut NU's lead to 54-52 with 1:18 to play.

Nebraska head coach Doc Sadler said the scoring drought - which saw just one field goal over a span of nearly 15 minutes - was a result of the Huskers not being patient enough to work the ball around and wait for an easy shot to develop.

"It's our impatience," Sadler said. "We scored too easy in the first half. If we'd just continued to swing the basketball like we was doing, even late, we would've got easy baskets. If we get into a game with a size disadvantage like we've got, and we try to go out and out-score people and we try to do it early and quick, over a 40-minute ball game you're not going to be successful very many times."

Desperately needing to score, Dagunduro drove to the lane and was fouled on a dunk attempt, sending him to the line for two free throws. Dagunduro missed the first attempt but made the second to put the Huskers up by three.

On A&M's next possession, though, Bryan Davis scored to bring the Aggies to within one at 55-54 with 53.9 remaining. It then looked as if A&M would take the lead on a breakaway lay-up after Dagunduro lost the ball on NU's next possession, but Donald Sloan was called for traveling with 22.9 left.

Sophomore guard Cookie Miller was then fouled on the inbounds pass with 19.5 to go, but he missed the front end of a one-and-one trip to the free throw line, giving A&M a chance to get a game-winning attempt with no shot clock.

With a chance to take the lead, Sloan missed a finger roll lay-up, and a scrum for ball ensued. Dagunduro ended up gaining possession, and decided to throw the ball down to the other end of the floor in hopes of running out the clock.

However, he threw the ball a bit too far, and Steve Harley couldn't get there in time to save it before stepping out of bounds. The Aggies then got the ball back with 5.4 remaining, and with two fouls to give Ryan Anderson fouled Sloan with 2.6 seconds left.

"I figured I couldn't get my left hand on it, so I figure they might take it or somebody might easily knock it out of my hands," Dagunduro said. "So I figured if I threw it down, I'd give Steve and Sek a chance to run it down, maybe the could run it down. If not, they had the ball at the other end with maybe 5 seconds to go. I thought Steve got it, but unfortunately he was a bit out of bounds and they called it. Then they just made the big play."

Sadler said the plan was to then foul the Aggies again on the ensuing inbound pass, but the Huskers couldn't get to them in time, as Carter was able to spring free for the game winning 3-pointer.

"When it comes to execution, there's one person that's in charge, and my team didn't execute," Sadler said. "It goes back on me. It's a tough loss. It's a tough loss. It keeps them alive, and it makes the road for us really a tough road when you had a chance to get it. But we didn't. Now we've got to regroup."

Dagunduro scored a game-high 16 points for the Huskers in the loss, but it hardly served as any solace, as Nebraska's NCAA Tournament hopes all but disappeared completely when Carter's 3 hit the bottom of the net.

Now, the Huskers will try and find a way to regroup and get ready to travel to take on Kansas State on Saturday. Though that task may be easier said than done following Tuesday night's heartbreaker.

"That's just no excuse on our part," Dagunduro said. "We let our coaches absolutely down, and that's on our seniors. That drought we went on is inexcusable, and that comes down to execution on our part. The coaches were drawing up great plays, and we just didn't execute. It on us, the players."

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