BOULDER, Colo. - Outside of the Coors Events Center's visiting team locker room, Lance Jeter could only congratulate Colorado for doing what they had to do in their 67-57 win over Nebraska and likely earning an NCAA Tournament berth.
In so many ways, the Buffaloes did all the things the Huskers also needed to do but didn't.
In a game that had been called the Nebraska's most important game in more than a decade, the Huskers were unable to make the big plays when they needed to the most and dropped an absolutely crucial game on Saturday night.
After overcoming a brutal start to the game, Nebraska (19-11, 7-9 Big 12 Conference) came within one possession numerous times in the second half but could never get the defensive stop nor make the clutch shot, as the Huskers never once led in the game.
With the loss, Nebraska drops to the No. 8 seat in next week's Big 12 Tournament, where it will play No. 9 Oklahoma State at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday. Then, if the Huskers win, they will take on No. 1 Kansas in the second round.
In addition, the only remaining way for the Huskers to qualify for the Big Dance will be to win the conference tournament outright, meaning they'll have to win four straight games away from the Devaney Center.
NU is 1-16 on the road in Big 12 play the past two seasons.
"It hurts," Jeter said. "This loss hurts."
Nebraska's final regular season game as members of the Big 12 couldn't have started off any worse, as Colorado came out red-hot from the opening possession by hitting its first six shots to build up a 14-3 lead to begin the game.
The Buffaloes eventually bumped their lead up to 12 on a 3-pointer with 13 minutes left by Marcus Relphorde, who scored 10 of his game-high 19 points in the first half.
"That took a little bit out of us," Jeter said. "We were down 14-3 and had to come back from that, but I feel like going into half down five, we felt like we were energized and ready to go. It was just down the stretch they made more plays than we did."
While the Huskers never led in the first half, they were at least able to cut down the lead to a more manageable margin. A pair of 8-2 runs reduced the deficit down to as little as five points, and a offensive rebound and put back by Jorge Brian Diaz with 29 seconds left made it a 33-29 game going into halftime.
"They were making shots, and then again, three of our first shots were 3-point shots," head coach Doc Sadler said. "That's not us. I thought our tempo offensively was not very good."
Nebraska was able to keep that momentum going on into second half, as five straight points by Andre Almeida helped cut Colorado's lead to as few one point at 42-41 after a basket by Brandon Ubel with 12:16 to go.
The Huskers would come as close as one once again on a lay-in by Diaz a couple minutes later, but they were never able to get over the hump. Eventually, the Buffaloes finally got hot again.
With Nebraska failing to convert and take the lead due to missed shots and turnovers, Colorado broke the game back open with a 10-2 run featuring a monster dunk by Burks that got the crowd back on its feet.
While the Huskers were able to keep the game within reach the rest of the way, they simply couldn't make the plays they had to down the stretch.
"We came back to 42-41, and we took three quick shots and turned it over three possessions," Sadler said. "At that point, you thought our guys played hard and did all the things to get to that point, and then we kind of lost our poise a little bit.
"That's just a recipe to get beat on the road."
Jeter and Toney McCray both led Nebraska with 10 points, and they were the only Huskers to score in double figures in the loss. Colorado's Levi Knutson scored 13 points, while Alec Burks - who came in averaging more than 20 points per game in Big 12 play - added 12 on just 3-of-11 shooting.
The two biggest stats of the night, however, undoubtedly came in the free throw and turnover departments.
Nebraska just shot 46.7 percent from the free throw line (7-of-15), while Colorado connected on 83.3 percent (15-of-18). The Huskers also turned it over 15 times on the night compared to CU's five, resulting in an 18-7 advantage for the Buffs in points off turnovers.
Combined, those two areas resulted in a 19-point edge for Colorado in a game decided by 10 points.
"You can't win turning it over," Sadler said. "I thought our pace starting the ball game was not very good offensively. I thought we did not have the pep or the step that you need against a team that's aggressive.
"I thought we did recover and had a couple opportunities to take a lead, but you've got to make free throws. When you get in a game this time of year and you're playing for something, you better shoot over 70 percent, especially when the other team shoots the free throws like they do, or you're going to come up short."
Around the rim
***Many Nebraska fans were caught off guard a bit when the Huskers made a few surprising substitutions in the second half, most notably putting in junior center Christopher Niemann after NU cut it to 42-41.
Sadler said he played Niemann, who had played just 26 minutes all season, because the rest of his post players requested to come out because they were fatigued.
"They were asking to come out," Sadler said. "The one point when I had to put Christopher in, Brian, Andre and Brandon, all three had asked to come out. I wanted to buy about one minute out of (Niemann), and we made some mistakes there."
***Asked if the 5,430-foot altitude of the Coors Event Center had anything to do with the Huskers tiring out, Sadler quickly denied it had anything to do with it.
"Guys, altitude is so over-rated," Sadler said.
"It's all in your mind. That should have no effect."
***Jeter said he felt Nebraska gave up far too many transition opportunities to Colorado, which was one of the biggest reasons the Buffs were able to go on so many scoring runs throughout the game.
"I feel like we fought our hearts out to get back into the game in the second half, and of course we missed shots and they took advantage of some easy fast breaks in transition," Jeter said. "When we got back in the game, we were energized. Everybody was focused, everybody was happy.
"They just took advantage of fast breaks. Instead of making them work on defense, we took quick shots and they made us pay for it."