It's not often a team can feel disappointed after a last-second victory, but Wednesday was definitely one of those nights for Nebraska against Florida Gulf Coast.
Desperately needing to come out and put together a complete game and get a win, the Huskers were flat for all 40 minutes in what could have been the new low point of an already frustrating season.
While it was anything but pretty, Nebraska escaped 51-50 after junior guard Dylan Talley hit a game-winning jumper with 10.4 seconds remaining.
"Well, the good news is the outcome of the game," head coach Doc Sadler said. "We knew going into the game it was going to be very difficult… It didn't look like we had much emotion at all, but I think again you've got to give them credit for putting us in a situation and spreading us out (defensively)."
Nebraska once again dealt with its share of offensive struggles in the first half, as turnovers and bad shots opened the door for Florida Gulf Coast to take the early momentum.
The Huskers finally got their first big break with a little less than 14 minutes left in the first half and tied at 10-10, as FGCU center Kevin Cantinol was hit with a flagrant foul and ejected from the game.
That sparked a 7-0 run for NU and got it to its biggest lead of the half at 17-10 when senior guard Toney McCray hit a 3-pointer with 11:15 left. That, however, would be the Huskers' last points for awhile.
The Eagles answered right back with a 17-3 run of their own, highlighted by three straight 3s by freshman Filip Cvjeticanin, which gave them a 27-20 lead with 5:50 remaining in the half. That run was certainly helped by Nebraska's inability to put the ball in the basket, as it made just one field goal in nearly a nine-minute stretch.
Things finally started going the Huskers' way again to close out the first half, as a huge block by senior guard Bo Spencer helped get the ball out to junior center Jorge Brian Diaz in transition, and Diaz took it all the way in for a one-handed jam.
Talley then hit a 3-pointer with 57 seconds left to cut the deficit to 27-26 heading into halftime. Prior to Diaz's dunk, the Huskers hadn't scored a single point in the paint and committed 10 turnovers in the first half to four by FGCU.
Overall, Nebraska shot just 36 percent from the field in the first half, including going just 5-of-13 from beyond the arc.
"(FGCU) made some big 3s there in a row in the first half, and their zone gave us problems," Sadler said. "That was the best zone that we've played against, taking the inside away. I thought we got very panicky the first half. At one time, I think 10 of our first 13 or 14 shots were 3s."
The second half didn't go much better for the Huskers, as they never led by more than three points the rest of the game and even trailed five times down the stretch. Nebraska appeared to take control when Talley nailed a 3 with 11:33 left to take a 40-34 lead, but just like it went the entire game, the momentum didn't last very long.
The Eagles came right back with a 10-2 run and reclaimed the lead on a pair of free throws by Bernard Thompson with 6:25 to go. The teams traded the lead four more times in the next five minutes before Christopher Varidel hit a 3-pointer with just 1:22 left to put FGCU up 50-49, and suddenly Nebraska was staring its third-straight loss right in the face.
The Eagles could've all but sealed the win when Chase Fieler had a wide-open look from at a 3 from the corner, but his shot hit off the rim and gave NU the ball back with 30 seconds to play.
With two seconds separating the game clock and the shot clock, Nebraska held the ball as long as it could before Spencer drove to the lane and then kicked the ball out to Talley in the right wing. Talley took a dribble, pulled up and nailed a 10-foot jumper to put the Huskers up by one with 10.4 remaining.
"Bo penetrated and kicked it out to me, and I thought I had the shot, but I just took a dribble and used the ball screen and just was ready to make a play," Talley said. "I made it, thankfully, so I'm happy."
Florida Gulf Coast had one last chance coming out of a timeout with 7.1 to go, but the Eagles somehow managed to let time run out without even taking a shot.
Talley led all scorers with 14 points, while junior forward Brandon Ubel posted NU's first double-double of the season with 10 points and a career-high 11 rebounds. Sherwood Brown led FGCU with 14 points.
The Huskers were by no means satisfied with their play in any aspect Wednesday night, but in the grand scheme of the season and the way things had been going for them the past few weeks, they'll gladly take any win they can get at this point.
"It felt good," Talley said. "We needed that win big time… We felt we should've won all the games we lost, so to lose another one that we thought we should've won would've hurt a lot. We're just relieved to pull out a close one, and that should give us confidence for the next close game, because all the games from here on out are going to be tough."
Around the rim
***Talley was the hero of the night despite nearly being scratched from the lineup, as he continues to deal with a lingering thigh injury that's been re-aggravated twice already this season. He was forced to miss some practice this week after getting hit in the thigh coming off a ball screen against Creighton, and neither he nor Sadler knew if he would be able to play Wednesday until right before tip-off.
"To be honest, today we didn't know what was going to happen, (in terms of) how much he was even going to play," Sadler said. "But you see why we need him."
Talley played 26 minutes in the win, and he was Nebraska's primary source of offense down the stretch in the second half. After the game, Talley said he was in a lot of pain all night, and even considered sitting himself out because it hurt so much.
In the end, though, Talley said he planned to continue to fight through the pain as long as he could. He listed himself as day-to-day moving forward, but was hopeful his thigh would heal within the next couple weeks.
"It's hurting pretty bad to be honest," Talley said. "I was thinking about sitting out, but I didn't want to miss any time and lose my shape or anything like that. I'm just going to play through it. I really didn't think Coach was going to play me as much as he did, because he knew I was hurt, but he knows I'm trying to fight through it. I'm happy he still had confidence in me to play me. I'm real happy I could pull through at the end of the game like that."
***Sadler said one of his biggest concerns with Nebraska's performance against FGCU was its lack of fire and emotion for the majority of the game.
"Well first of all they're not very emotional guys, I don't think," Sadler said. "I don't know what they get excited about. I get excited about winning. There's so much pressure on these guys to do that, and it's almost like a sigh of relief to them. It can't be that way. They've got to enjoy it. I mean, they're disappointed in the three losses that we've got, but those are over with. You can't get those back. You almost had another bad loss, but we didn't. They found a way tonight. I mean, it wasn't easy."
***Sadler said part of the reason for NU's poor showing was because the players were simply trying to do too much instead of just letting the game come to them.
"I think this team is trying way too hard," Sadler said. "They're trying way too hard, and they've got to relax and they've got to enjoy the game. As I told them in the locker room, you better enjoy every game that we can win. You go in the locker room, and it's like they're just taking a big sigh. They've got to enjoy it, because we do have a good basketball team."
***Spencer ended the night with an uncharacteristically bad offensive performance, scoring just six points on 2-of-11 shooting from the field, going just 1-of-7 from 3-point range and committing a game-high seven turnovers. However, Sadler said Spencer played one of his best games of the season.
"I thought it was one of Bo's best games," Sadler said. "He didn't shoot it good, but I thought he played maybe about as good of defense as he's played. Offensively, it might have been his worst, but I thought defensively it was by far the best game he played, by far."
***With the start of the Big Ten Conference schedule just 20 days away, Sadler said his team still had a long way to go before it was ready to make its first run through the new league.
"As I told the team, we're not ready," Sadler said. "We're not close. Come the 27th of December, we'll be ready. I promise you. Those guys are too good. They're practicing too hard. They will be ready to play the best game they've played all year on the 27th. I believe that 100 percent. One hundred percent. I believe that. We've just got to find a way to get to the 27th."