OMAHA - Frustration was already starting to mount for Nebraska heading into its instate rivalry game against Creighton, and those emotions reached a boiling point by the time the final buzzer sounded on Sunday.
While the Huskers were able to withstand some big Creighton runs in the first half and early on into the second, their temper ended up getting the best of them in one critical stretch late in their 76-66 loss to the Bluejays.
Trailing by just one point midway through the second half, Nebraska was hit with back-to-back technical fouls that turned it into a six-point Creighton lead. Senior guard Toney McCray earned the first technical following a foul call on NU, and then head coach Doc Sadler picked up the next moments later for arguing with officials.
The technicals were far from the only reason Nebraska dropped its third loss in its last four games, but Sadler didn't hesitate to blame his own lack of self-control as one of the primary reasons for his team's problems.
"Gosh, I've got to apologize to our team," Sadler said. "That loss is strictly on the guy you're looking at right now. It's not on anybody but me. That's as simple as I can put it… I thought both teams played extremely hard, and the mistakes that were made were not by the players, it was by me."
Nebraska got off to yet another slow start offensively, scoring just 10 points in the game's first 10 minutes to fall behind by as much as eight points midway through the first half.
The Huskers shot just 32 percent from the field in the first half, but they were able to bring the game back to within one possession with a late rally in the final minutes of the half. Sparked by a floater by McCray that bounced its way in, Nebraska went on an 8-0 run and cut the deficit to 30-29 when senior point guard Bo Spencer stole a CU inbounds pass and made a lay-up with 40 seconds to go.
After Creighton ran the clock down under 10 seconds, Nebraska appeared to get a big defensive stop to close out the half when Ethan Wragge missed a long 3, but Grant Gibbs hauled in the offensive rebound and hit a short jumper with three seconds on the clock to make it 32-29 at halftime.
Spencer was NU's primary source of offense in the first half, scoring 12 points on 4-of-4 shooting, including a pair of 3-pointers. McCray followed up with eight points, while forward Doug McDermott led the Bluejays with seven first half points.
"I thought we missed an awful lot of easy baskets, especially in the first half," Sadler said. "But that could be because of their defense."
The Huskers picked things back up in the second half with another scoring run to take their biggest lead yet. Junior center Jorge Brian Diaz scored to cut it to 35-33, and that sparked an 11-2 run by NU that put it up 42-37 with just over 14 minutes left to play.
Creighton answered right back with a rally of its own, however, as McDermott scored two straight put-back baskets to help the Bluejays go on a 6-0 run and reclaim the lead at 43-42 with 11:17 to go.
About two minutes later, things got a little crazy.
McDermott was fouled by junior center Christopher Niemann with 9:14 to play, and McCray was hit with a technical foul for an apparent "gesture" he made in reaction to the call on Niemann.
Agitated by both the foul and the technical and the fact that he wasn't getting a clear response from the officials as to what exactly happened on the play, Sadler was then given a technical for walking over to the other end of the scorer's table and sitting next to Creighton coach Greg McDermott as he spoke with the refs near the Bluejay bench.
When the smoke finally cleared, Creighton was awarded four free throws for the two technicals on top of the two free throws from the initial foul. What was a 46-45 lead for the Bluejays jumped up to 51-45, and there was no looking back from there.
Sadler was asked to comment on what exactly happened in his exchange with the referees, but he declined to go into any detail.
"I can't talk about it or I'll get in trouble," Sadler said.
Nebraska never came closer than six points the rest of the way, as Creighton led by as much as 12 before finally wrapping things up with a 10-point victory.
"We felt like we were answering the runs that they were going to make, and we felt like we were able to absorb each blow that they gave us and we could come back and answer," Spencer said. "We were trying not to let the crowd get into it, but when we had that series of technicals and stuff, that was a blow we didn't recover from."
Spencer ended the day with a game-high 29 points, while McCray finished with 15 and Diaz added 10 points and seven rebounds. McDermott led Creighton with 24 points and 12 rebounds, while guard Antoine Young had 14 points.
What initially looked like a promising beginning to the season has turned into a 4-3 start for the Huskers. Even though there are still plenty of games left to turn it around, the team realizes it has to do something quickly to keep things from getting any worse.
"This is a tough one to take," Spencer said. "Ever since the Wake Forest game, we came out and practiced really tough. Everyone was really focused and concentrated on the scout team. We played a heck of game. Had a couple tough calls, you know, we had a couple mental breakdowns, but it's a real tough one to take."
McCray said he never could have envisioned NU losing three games this early in the year.
"No way," McCray said. "We thought we'd be undefeated by now. We don't go into games thinking we're going to lose, no matter where we're at. This is definitely not as planned for our team.
"We're definitely angry. We're a little down after this game. We felt like we really should have won this game. They're a good team, but so are we. We were confident coming in here. We're down as of right now, and we're probably going to be a little down as the day goes on, but tomorrow is a new day, and we've got to move on and get ready for our next game."
***Junior guard Dylan Talley got his first start as a Husker on Sunday, replacing senior Caleb Walker. It was a rough outing for Talley, though, as he was held scoreless on 0-of-4 shooting with two turnovers in the game.
***Sadler said Talley has been dealing with more issues from a thigh injury he suffered in the summer, as he apparently was hit in the thigh in NU's win over South Dakota State and hasn't been the same since.
"He got hit in the South Dakota State game, and I don't know what's going to happen," Sadler said. "He's missed practice because of it, and we're playing with a big thigh pad there. It is what it is. He's not near as quick as some of you guys have seen him play. He's just not able to play like he was earlier. So I don't know what we're going to do. It is an issue though."
***Spencer's 29 points were the most by a Husker since Aleks Maric scored 32 against Missouri on Feb. 13, 2008.
"I thought Bo played within himself really well tonight," Sadler said. "He took what they gave him, didn't try to force it, set up the team well. I thought his defense was better. You look at the points, and you can tell he played good on offense. I thought his overall game was much better."
***After the game, McCray said he still wasn't sure exactly what he did to get hit with a technical foul, but said he has to learn from it so it doesn't happen again in the future.
"I didn't think I really said anything, but the ref was talking about how my hands were going up or something like that," McCray said. "I've just got to learn from that and move on."
***Creighton's 51 percent shooting in the game was an opponent best against Nebraska in 2010-11.
30-Day Free Trial: Get premium access to HuskerOnline.com! (Code: redseascrolls)