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November 29, 2008

Huskers win last-second thriller over Bluejays

Most every player would've shot the ball in Steve Harley's situation, but not him.

With the game tied 52-52 and just 17.9 seconds left in the game, Nebraska head coach Doc Sadler drew up a play to set up the senior guard for a shot off a double screen to try and hit the game winner.

But with 2.7 seconds left on the clock, Harley decided to pass up on a tough running jumper and instead dish the ball down to senior Ade Dagunduro on the right block. Dagunduro then put in an easy layup to give the Huskers a 54-52 victory over in-state rival Creighton Saturday night at Devaney Sports Center.

After the game, Sadler said Harley's decision to pass the ball instead of trying a more difficult shot himself was one the most unselfish play of the game. All things considered, it was probably the Huskers' most unselfish play of the season.

"I told the team Steve made the most unselfish play of the whole game," Sadler said. "A lot of times players in those situations will take a difficult shot instead of making a pass, and I thought Steve did a great job of making the pass there."

For Harley, passing the ball in that crucial of a situation was merely second nature.

"I just came off the screen and they kind of double-teamed me, and I tried to make a play," Harley said. "I was seeing Ade wide open on the baseline, and I just had to get it to him for the wide-open lay-up."

After trailing by 13 points at halftime, Nebraska was able to slowly chip away at Creighton's lead throughout the second half. The Huskers eventually reclaimed the lead on a back-to-back 3-pointers by senior Paul Velander and junior Ryan Anderson to go up 37-36 with 12:24 left in the game.

A couple minutes later, Velander drained two more 3s and Harley put in a layup off of a steal and assist by sophomore Cookie Miller to put NU up 45-38 with 9:21 to go.

But just when it looked like Nebraska had taken control of the game, the Bluejays clawed their way right back into the mix with a 8-2 run, capped off by a basket by Cavel Witter to tie the game at 49-49 with 1:38 remaining.

Anderson put NU back up by one with a free throw on the Huskers' ensuing possession, but missed the second attempt. Nebraska was able to get a big stop on the Bluejays' next trip down the court, and Harley knocked in a pair of free throws with 25.9 seconds remaining to go up 52-49.

However, Creighton's Josh Dotzler drained a huge 3-pointer from the top of the arc with 17.9 left on the clock to tie the game at 52-52.

That was when the Huskers called a timeout and Sadler drew up the eventual game-winning play. He said the double screen was intended to create a shot for Harley as the first option, leaving Dagunduro out on the right wing as the No. 2 option and Anderson up at the top of the key as the third.

When Harley drove, CU's Kenny Lawson stepped up in the lane to cut him off, leaving Dagunduro wide open underneath on the right block. Harley jumped and dropped the ball underneath to Dagunduro, who easily laid the ball in off the glass to give NU the victory.

Well, maybe not that easily.

"It might have been the closest shot I ever got, but the toughest shot I ever got," Dagunduro said. "To be honest with you, I was a little nervous. Knowing I was so close and it was so wide open, knowing me, I knew something was going to go wrong. I'm just thankful that it went in."

It was a slow start for both teams to open the game, as neither team was able to find any offensive consistency until late in the first half.

Leading 7-6 a little more than 5 minutes into the game, the Bluejays finally got going with a 10-2 run that gave them a nine-point advantage. However, the majority of that run came not because of Creighton's hot shooting, but because of Nebraska's inability to put the ball in the basket.

The Huskers went a full 6 minutes without a point during the run, and 8 minutes without a field goal. Finally, a pair of back-to-back buckets by Harley helped bring NU back to within five with 5:45 remaining, but Creighton would close the half on a 14-6 run and take a 31-18 lead into halftime.

The two teams shot a combined 16-of-49 shooting from the floor in the first half, with Nebraska shooting 30 percent from the field and Creighton shooting 34.6 percent. The difference was CU's four 3-pointers and 9-of-10 shooting from the free-throw line.

When all was said and done, though, Harley ended with a game-high 18 points, which also tied his season best, to go along with six rebounds to lead the team. Dagunduro followed up 11 points and four rebounds, while Velander scored all nine of his points on second-half 3-pointers.

"I thought it was a good basketball game," Sadler said. "The first half I thought they were much more the aggressor. We had some guys who maybe were a little wide-eyed, but at the same time, they stayed in there and really, really battled."

The Huskers return to action on Wednesday, when they look to improve to 6-0 against Alabama State at 7 p.m. at Devaney.

A tale of two halves

If Saturday night's game would have ended after the first half, it would've been an utterly disappointing defeat for Nebraska. Luckily, that's why they play two of them.

Connecting on just 30 percent shooting from the floor and trailing 31-18 at the end of the first half, the Huskers looked like a team struggling to find any sort of offensive identity.

But after some halftime adjustments in the locker room and a newfound level of intensity, Nebraska came out and smothered Creighton defensively and found somewhat of a groove shooting the ball to pull of a huge come-from-behind victory.

The 13-point halftime deficit tied the largest any NU team has overcome since Sadler took over in 2006. The last time the Huskers came back from 13 points at the half was last season on the road against Texas Tech.

In the second half, the Huskers came out and hit 13-of-27 shots from the field (48.1 percent), and made all five of their 3-pointers in the game after halftime. The victory marked just the fifth time the Huskers have rallied back from a halftime deficit under Sadler, as they are now 5-22 after trailing at the half since 2006.

While Sadler could have taken credit for getting his team focused and making some brilliant halftime adjustments, he said the majority of the second-half spark came simply from the Huskers making shots and plays they didn't in the first half.

"There were just a few things that we had talked about (at halftime), and we didn't do that many things different in the second half that we talked about in the first half," Sadler said. "We made some shots. Paul Velander made some 3s, and that's what got us going. As I've told you guys since the day I took the job, in my opinion, coaching is so overrated. You put them out there, you teach them during the week, and they got to make plays.

"(Creighton) made some shots in the first half, they got a 13-point lead. We made some shots in the second half, and everybody thinks I made all the adjustments. I didn't do nothing except cheerlead, and I'm not a real good cheerleader. But I'm better when we're hitting shots."

Turnovers the key for Huskers

Of all the stats Creighton head coach Dana Altman noticed following his team's last-second loss on Saturday, the turnover column stuck out like a giant black eye.

With 12 turnovers in both the first and second halves, Nebraska was able to fluster the Bluejays offensively all game. Creighton's 24 total turnovers were the most it had committed all season, and were just one shy of matching NU's season high for turnovers forced.

"It was the difference in the game," Altman said. "We had some bad possessions in the second half. Very soft and weak with the basketball. We just weren't good enough to finish it."

Altman said Nebraska was able to force the Bluejays into making mistakes with the ball on several occasions, but said the majority of Creighton's turnovers were the result of its own mental errors.

"Nebraska did a good job, but mostly it was our bad decision making," he said. "They've got quick athletes and make some good defensive plays, but we made some decisions that were just unbelievable. We are just a poorly-coached basketball team. Some of our possessions set basketball back 10 years."



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