There was no second-half magic for Nebraska against Iowa this time around, as late rally was cut short in what ended as a 74-60 loss to the Hawkeyes to close out the regular season on Saturday afternoon.
Despite seven 3-pointers by junior guard Ray Gallegos, who finished with a game-high 22 points, the Huskers never led in the game and were unable to overcome a that got as large as 19 points in the second half. After fighting back to get as close as one point with 15 minutes to go in the game, things slipped away from NU the rest of the way in a 14-point defeat.
"You win on the road by playing with the lead," head coach Tim Miles said. "You win on the road by playing in front. Just to not do that, we knew they were going to come in hopped up and charged up, so how do we respond? We fight back and play with more physicality, but we never really were getting stops… That's really what cost us, as points in the paint. That's what I said was going to be the key to the game."
Nebraska managed just 10 points through the first 11:30 of the game, but it was able to keep the Hawkeyes within reach and didn't trail by more than eight points until the final seconds of the first half.
After a 3-pointer by Gallegos - his third of the half - cut the deficit to 26-21 with three minutes to go, Iowa closed the first half on a 6-2 run including a put-back by Eric May with 25 seconds left on the clock give Iowa its biggest lead yet going into halftime at 32-23.
The biggest difference in the first half was the way Iowa controlled the low post. The Hawkeyes out-rebounded NU 23-12 with seven offensive rebounds and out-scored the Huskers 18-8 in points in the paint. Center Adam Woodbury and forward Aaron White combined for 15 points while forward Melsahn Basabe had eight of his 13 rebounds in the first half.
"It was like Illinois," Miles said. "You have to credit Iowa, but we just made some careless mistakes. We kept helping up too much and providing free access to the rim. That's just discipline moves."
Just like they did in the first meeting in Lincoln, though, the Huskers came out red hot offensively to open the second half and eventually cut the lead down to four. The rally definitely came with its share of drama and excitement, as Nebraska was able to withstand a flurry of Iowa dunks and a flagrant foul on Andre Almeida before putting together an 8-2 run.
After Almeida was hit with a flagrant for a hard foul on White that resulted in a five-point possession for the Hawkeyes, the senior center responded by scoring on NU's next two trips down court and then delivering a crushing screen on May to set up Gallegos for his fifth 3-pointer of the day.
Freshman Shavon Shields stepped up seconds later with a fast break And-1 conversion that brought Nebraska back to 43-39 with just over 16 minutes to go. A 3 by senior Dylan Talley on the Huskers' next possession cut it a one-point Iowa lead, but that would be as close as they would get.
The Hawkeyes quickly responded with an 11-2 run and pushed their lead back up to 10 with 11 minutes remaining. It would only get worse from there, as Iowa continued to extend that run to as much as 20-2, including a 17-0 stretch, that made it 63-44.
Nebraska finally ended a nine-minute drought without a made field goal when Gallegos knocked down his sixth 3-pointer of the day, and that sparked a short spurt for the Huskers that at least brought the score back within reach.
"He really shot well," Miles said of Gallegos, who finished 7-of-14 from 3-point range. "He was in rhythm. I challenged Ray, because he hadn't practiced very well and I didn't think he did much against Minnesota. So I'm like, 'Come on now. We need you.' He really stepped up."
After getting it back to 13 points, Woodbury was called for a technical away from the ball, and senior Brandon Ubel made both free throws to make it 63-52 with 4:55 to play. The Huskers got then got the ball back following the free throws, and it looked like Gallegos was going to make it a single-digit game, but his 3 from the corner rolled in and out.
Iowa was able to control the game from there, as the Hawkeyes' lead never dropped below 11 points the rest of the way. Talley was the only other Husker to score in double figures with 11 points, while Ubel added nine points and seven rebounds. White led Iowa with 19 points.
Nebraska ends the regular season with a 14-17 overall record and 5-13 mark in Big Ten play. The good news for the Huskers is that the loss had no impact on their seeding in next week's Big Ten Tournament in Chicago, as they will still be the 10-seed in Thursday's first round game that will tip-off at 5:30 p.m. CT.
As for their opponent, they will face either Illinois or Purdue depending on the outcome of Sunday's Illinois-Ohio State game. If the Fighting Illini defeat the Buckeyes, they will play the Huskers as the No. 7 seed. If they lose, NU will take on Purdue.
"Whoever we get, we're ready to go," Miles said. "Here's what you do: you play your entire regular season as a resume to try and get into post-season play. Some guys are fighting to get into the NCAA Tournament, some guys are fighting to get into the NIT. Now that's over. Now the only single focus is the NCAA Tournament, win the automatic berth. That's all that matters, and that's what we're going to try and do."