AMES, Iowa - There wasn't much more Nebraska head coach Doc Sadler could say that would be any different from any of his team's 11 other Big 12 Conference losses this season.
Following Wednesday's 78-74 loss to Iowa State, Sadler couldn't really explain how his team could essentially win every statistical category in one game and still come up short on the scoreboard.
The only thing he could talk about was how difficult it was to watch his team work so hard only lose for the 12th time in 13 conference games.
"It's so frustrating because you want them to win so bad because they try so hard," Sadler said. "That's been the case in several games. That's why it's so hard to go in that locker room with those guys. If you look at the stat sheet, in most cases the turnovers are great, the offensive rebounds, everything. We just didn't get anything when we were struggling."
Even though the Huskers (13-15 overall, 1-12 Big 12) led the Cyclones (14-14, 3-10) in field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, assists and steals, they couldn't hold on to three second half leads to pull out the victory.
While Iowa State was completely out-played for the majority of the night, the difference was simply that it made the plays down the stretch when it mattered the most and Nebraska didn't.
"It's a game where we just gave another one away," junior point guard Lance Jeter said. "It's frustrating when you see us out there giving all that we can, and we want to win so bad and we don't get it done. It's just the same story. It's frustrating. We don't know how to react to it."
In front of a sparse and unusually quiet Hilton Coliseum crowd, Nebraska was able to make some shots and essentially control the game throughout the first half.
After taking a 12-4 lead to open the game, Iowa State slowly climbed back with a 12-3 run of its own to take a 17-14 lead with 10:44 left in the half. Behind the surprising play of freshman forward Christian Standhardinger, though, the Huskers quickly regained control and claimed a 30-23 lead with six minutes to go.
Standhardinger, making his first career start in place of sophomore guard Brandon Richardson, scored nine of NU's next 14 points during the run. He ended the half with 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting the field, which tied his career high for the entire season.
Iowa State brought it back to within two points after a three-point play the old fashioned way by center Justin Hamilton, but the Huskers were able to hold onto the lead the rest of the half.
Jeter ended things with the play of the half at the buzzer, as he shook free from a defender and drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key as time expired to send Nebraska into halftime up 41-34.
Standhardinger and the Huskers continued their momentum on into the second half, as the Munich, Germany, native scored four of NU's first six points, including a pair of free throws that gave the Huskers their largest lead of the game at 47-37.
Just when it seemed things were finally going to be easy for Nebraska, however, Iowa State came storming back. The Cyclones responded with a 16-0 run, highlighted by a steal, basket and free throw by guard Chris Colvin that reclaimed the lead for ISU at 49-48 with 12:21 to go.
The Huskers scored eight straight points to build their lead back up to six, capped off by a steal and assist by senior guard Sek Henry to Standhardinger for a breakaway dunk that made it 59-53 with 7:38 remaining.
Just like before, though, the lead didn't last very long. Iowa State came right back with a 10-0 run to reclaim the lead, which they held until Jeter converted a basket and a foul shot to tie the game back up at 65-65 with a little more than four minutes left.
With the game locked up and the time winding down, it was only a matter of time before All-Big 12 forward Craig Brackins made his presence known. With two rim-shaking dunks, including a SportsCenter-worthy one-handed alley-oop, Brackins brought the crowd to its feet and gave ISU the advantage with three minutes to go.
"(He's a guy) that you kept in check for 36 minutes, and he goes and makes the plays," Sadler said. "He hit two threes, got an offensive rebound put-back on a missed shot, he gets a dunk. I mean the last four minutes, what does he get - 10, 12 points? That's what a go-to guy is supposed to do. That's what they have and we don't."
After being Nebraska's best player the entire night, Standharding committed two straight costly turnovers which Iowa State converted into four free throws and bulked its lead up to 73-66 with 40.7 seconds on the clock.
The Huskers made one last push in the final seconds when Richardson hit the first of four free throws with 14.9 seconds left to pull with 75-71. Instead of trying to make the second free throw and cut it to a one-possession game, though, Richardson tried to intentionally miss the shot and throw it against the rim in hopes of an offensive rebound.
The play failed, as the ball missed the rim completely and guard Diante Garrett was fouled on the inbounds play and hit 1-of-2 free throws to increase the lead to five with 13.8 seconds left. Jeter kept things alive for another few seconds with a 3-pointer with 5.4 remaining, but senior forward Marquis Gilstrap sank both of his ensuing shots from the charity stripe to seal the win.
Standhardinger finished with a game-high 25 points, which stand as the ninth-most ever by a Nebraska freshman. Jeter also came up big with a career-high 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field, while redshirt freshman center Jorge Brian Diaz added 12 points.
Brackins led Iowa State with 21 points, and he was one of four Cycolnes to score in double figures.
With the loss, the Huskers fall to two games out of 11th place in the Big 12 standings with just three more regular season games to play. Next up is a home game on Saturday against Texas Tech, where NU will hopefully finally get things to go their way for an entire 40 minutes for just the second time since early January.
"We felt like we were all on the same page," Jeter said. "We gave up three leads that we were supposed to keep and grind them and make them play defense. We took some risky shots, and they made us pay for them on the other end."
Standhardinger emerging as potential star
In the first start of his collegiate career, Standhardinger looked like a legitimate up-and-coming star.
Because of a combination of his endless hard work, improved performance in practice and the fact that he posed a good match-up physically against Brackins, Sadler said he decided to give this year's most talked about newcomer a chance to show what he could do in the starting lineup.
With 25 points and eight rebounds, it's needless to say his starting debut was just short of a complete success.
"I went out to the gym and worked as hard as possible to help the team like always," Standhardinger said. "For me, you always try to help the team, but of course it's a confidence boost. When you start, it means you have the trust of the coach. I just worked as hard as possible in the game to (earn) the trust."
Sadler said one of the biggest things that has held Standhardinger back has been that he often worked too hard on the court, which generally resulted in turnovers or fouls. In recent weeks, though, Sadler said the 6-foot-8, 200-pounder has toned down his intensity just enough to play a more controlled game.
The results of his adjustments were definitely shown against the Cyclones.
"Christian tries so hard that sometimes it hurts him," Sadler said. "He has to learn to be more patient. I'm not talking about offense, I'm talking about his patience on the court, and he's gotten better at. I've been wanting the last two or three games to play him more, because he is a guy who can score baskets for you… He's going to continue to play these kind of minutes as long as he doesn't get into foul trouble."
By the end of the night, members of the Iowa State student section were heard chanting, "Go pro!" to Standhardinger, who has been rumored to possibly go back to Europe to play professionally before his time at NU is over.
However, Standhardinger said he would gladly trade all of his stats in exchange for a win in his starting debut.
"I think I was alright, but there were a lot of mistakes, especially in the last minute," he said. "That really gets on my nerves. (The points are) really not important because you lost… It would be better to have 0 points, 0 rebounds, 0 steals and no turnovers and we would win the game. In the end, it's always about winning and losing, and we just lost again."