Nebraska's woes continued on Saturday night, and this one was about as tough of a pill as there is to swallow.
Trailing by three points in the final minute against Iowa State, the Huskers couldn't find a way to get any more points on the board and made some questionable clock management decisions en route to losing their third straight Big 12 Conference game, 56-53 to the Cyclones.
"We talked for three days about the team that was going to show the most toughness in the tough times was going to win the basketball game," head coach Doc Sadler said. "They got the tough rebounds and they got the tough put-backs, and we go 2-for-8 from the free-throw line. You're not going to win in this league doing that. You're not going to win in this league… We've got to get tougher. It's frustrating."
After a basket by redshirt freshman center Jorge Brian Diaz cut the deficit to 55-53 with 1:38 left in the game, senior guard Ryan Anderson came up with a big steal with 1:06 remaining to give NU a chance to tie or take the lead.
However, the Huskers turned the ball over on their ensuing possession. From there, Sadler said he made the worst coaching move in his five years at Nebraska.
After the Cyclones had run the game clock down to 14 seconds and the shot clock down to eight, Sadler finally had his team foul because he admitted not not realizing the Huskers only had five team fouls. Two fouls later, ISU sharpshooter Lucca Staiger ended up at the line with 9.3 seconds left and hit one of two free throws to extend the lead to 56-53.
Following Staiger's miss on his second attempt, there was a loose ball that finally resulted in a jump ball in favor of Nebraska, though the clock ran down to 5.0 seconds before NU finally gained possession.
Freshman guard Ray Gallegos took the inbounds pass up court and passed it off to junior guard Lance Jeter, who threw up a desperation 3-pointer as time expired that fell short of the rim and solidified the defeat.
"It was a huge mistake on my part. Huge mistake," Sadler said. "The mistake that I made in that basketball game was bigger than any a player has made for us in four years. I'm very, very upset about it."
Nebraska took a bit to get warmed up early on, as it managed just 14 points through the first 12 minutes of the game and fell behind 26-14 after a 3-pointer by Staiger with 7:53 left in the half.
Just when it seemed the Huskers were in for a long night, a basket by Jeter sparked an 18-2 run that helped them eventually reclaim the lead at 32-31.
Sophomore guard Brandon Richardson - who was listed as very doubtful for the game with a thigh bruise - hit a pair of 3-pointers during the run and Anderson highlighted it with a steal and breakaway dunk.
A late 3-point play the old fashioned way by Marquis Gilstrap with 37.7 seconds remaining sent the Huskers into the locker room with a 32-31 halftime lead.
Anderson led the way for Nebraska with a team-high 13 points and eight rebounds, while Jeter added 12 points and six boards. Gilstrap finished with a game-high 15 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Cyclones.
With the win, Iowa State snapped a 16-game losing streak on the road in Big 12 play. Coincidently, the Cyclones' last Big 12 road win came at Nebraska during the 2006-07 season.
The Huskers will look to pick up their first conference win of the season when they hit the road for their first Big 12 road game next Saturday at Missouri.
"The thing that's difficult is that there's not an easy part in this season. As I've said before, if we can find a way to win two or three games in this first eight, we're going to be in great shape. Obviously we've lost two at home now… You can't let opportunities go, and we've let three go that - you've got to win those. I don't care who you're playing."
Around the rim
***Nebraska shot just 2-of-8 (25 percent) from the free-throw line on Saturday night, including senior guard Sek Henry hitting just two of his seven shots from the charity stripe. Sadler said Nebraska's poor shooting from the line was one of the biggest reasons the game ended in a loss.
"I thought our guys played extremely hard, but once again it's free throws that are the biggest difference in this basketball game," he said. "We can't give points away. I thought our shot selection at times was as bad as it can be in this league. We've talked about it. You cannot take quick 3s in this league, especially when you are not going to the free throw line.
"In the first half when they got up about eight, it came from quick shots and they got easy baskets on the other end. We fought back and got back in the basketball game, took the lead. We can't give points away and that is what we're doing right now."
***Sadler also said the Huskers' final play was poorly executed because he thought the Cyclones would try to foul to prevent a 3-point attempt, so he told his team to try and get to the basket for a quick two.
Instead, ISU let them take a bad shot and end the game with an air ball.
"Again, we didn't execute that either," Sadler said. "We should have taken it to the basket; that is what we talked about doing. I thought they would try to foul us. The first guy was supposed to sprint out, I knew they would pick him up. The second guy was going to switch out everything, I figured they would pick up the second guy and the third guy could get to the basket. I wanted smaller people in the game to try and get it down.
"Five seconds is a long time and we didn't do it; that is my fault also. We have to execute better at the end of the game."
***Nebraska's loss marks the fourth time it's started conference play 0-3 since start of the Big 12 era.