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November 4, 2013

Huskers roll past UNK in exhibition opener, 91-60

It was only an exhibition game, so Nebraska head coach Tim Miles made sure to take his team's 91-60 victory over Nebraska-Kearney on Monday with a grain of salt.

Sophomore forward Shavon Shields led NU with 16 points on a perfect 7-of-7 shooting with five rebounds, as the Huskers shot 50 percent from the floor as a team to the Lopers' 32.1 percent in a game that was never close from the opening tip. In fact, Nebraska's 91 points in the game marked its highest total since a 94-61 win over Southern Utah on Dec. 29, 2009.

Even though the game was Huskers' first live competition against a different opponent, Miles didn't exactly rave about Nebraska's debut performance in the new Pinnacle Bank Arena.

"We have a lot of work to do," Miles said. "We took a lot of quick outside shots. We didn't do some of the things we've practice hard and well that we're going to need to do better against Division I competition. I thought our defensive rotations were a little weak. I thought we turned the ball over unnecessarily too often."

Though the energy from the crowd of 7,800 fans wasn't exactly blasting the roof off of the arena, Nebraska had no problems jumping out to a big lead early on and never looking back. A 16-0 run midway through the half helped the Huskers go up 29-7 with just under nine minutes left, and a pair of free throws by freshman Nick Fuller with 1.8 seconds remaining gave NU a comfortable 44-17 lead going into halftime.

Shields picked up right where he left off following his strong finish to last season, leading the way with 12 points on 5-of-5 shooting to go along with five rebounds, while sophomore guard Terran Petteway scored seven of his 10 points in the opening half. Overall, the Huskers out-shot UNK from the field 56.7 percent (17-30) to 24 percent (6-25) and out-rebounded the Lopers 22-17.

Nebraska-Kearney tried to keep things interesting to open the second half by coming out with a 10-2 run, but Nebraska quickly put those hopes to bed by eventually increasing its lead to as much as 35 with 10 minutes left to play, and it was all details after that.

"I think we did a pretty good job," Shields said. "We probably should have gotten on the offensive board and defensive boards better in the first half, and we did a better job of coming back in the second half and doing better. And then just shot selection and stuff like that, I think we needed to work it around on offense a little more. But overall I think it was a good first game in front of a crowd with all new guys together."

Along with Shields and Petteway, freshman guard Tai Webster and junior forward Leslee Smith added 12 points each, while Fuller chipped in 10 points off the bench. The Huskers' size advantage definitely showed in the rebounding column, as they ended the night with a 50-30 advantage on the glass, including a 15-8 edge on the offensive boards.

Forward Tyler Shields led UNK with a game-high 18 points, while forward Connor Beranek - who actually tried out for a walk-on spot at Nebraska over the offseason - followed up with 14 points and six rebounds.

The competition will definitely step up a few notches when Nebraska officially kicks off the 2013-14 regular season on Friday night when it hosts Florida Gulf Coast, with tip-off set for 8 p.m. CT. The Eagles were the darlings of the 2013 NCAA Tournament last spring, as they advanced all the way to the Sweet 16 as a No. 15 seed with a flurry of highlight-reel dunks and alley-oops.

While Miles was happy overall with the way his team responded in its first action of the season, he said the Huskers have to continue to improve in a hurry, as things will only get tougher from here on out.

"I think they all want the same thing," Miles said. "We just get a little high-strung. We get a little hoppy. But they care. The care factor is there. It's not about them. They want to do well. They want to win. How we figure that out is the important part, figuring out how to win and playing for each other. It just takes time. These are guys that are ambitious, high-energy guys. It's going to take time. We're not going to be as good as we want to be against Florida Gulf Coast. We're just going to get a little better from this, and then keep getting a little better against Western Illinois."



Around the rim

***Senior guard Ray Gallegos and freshman guard Nathan Hawkins both sat out of Monday's exhibition with injuries. Gallegos injured his hip in practice over the weekend and Hawkins has been dealing with a lingering foot injury. Miles said Gallegos would be re-evaluated tomorrow, but probably could have played Monday if he needed to.

***UNK head coach Tom Kropp said the Lopers were given $15,000 and 100 free tickets to the game as incentive to come play Nebraska in the exhibition.

***All nine of sophomore forward Walter Pitchford's points came off 3-pointers, as he was 3-of-6 from beyond the arc. Despite being Nebraska's tallest starter at 6-10, Miles said he had no problem with Pitchford shooting that much from 3-point range.

"I don't mind Walt shooting 3s," Miles said. "He's a green-light guy for me. He makes more than anybody else, including Gallegos."

***Going into the season, Miles expressed concern over the new rule changes geared towards increasing scoring in college basketball this year and how games would be officiated. There were a total of 44 fouls called in Monday's game, 22 by each team. Miles said his feelings haven't changed on the issue.

"I'm still concerned," Miles said. "I really am. Terran had four in 17 minutes. It's just like if you are a guard and you want to just put your shoulder in somebody's sternum, you're going to be able to go to the foul line. Deverell Biggs could've shot 25 foul shots if he wanted to tonight."


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