Though the game was never out of reach for Nebraska, it simply couldn't get over the hump in what ended in a frustrating 77-69 loss to No. 12 Missouri on Wednesday night in Columbia, Mo.
In their first true road game of the season, the Huskers (13-3 overall, 1-1 Big 12 Conference) overcame a rough start to the game and came as close as three points in the second half, but they simply couldn't make enough plays never once led in the game.
Junior guard Marcus Denmon led the way with a career-high 27 points on five 3-pointers for the Tigers (15-2, 1-1), while junior guard Toney McCray led Nebraska with 17 points. With the loss, NU's winning streak ended at 11 in a row, marking the sixth longest in school history.
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"I'm not disappointed in our team or our effort," head coach Doc Sadler said during his post-game radio show. "I thought the effort, man, they could have quit two or three times when we were down nine, 10 points, 11 points in the second half, and boy we kept fighting and fighting and in the last two and half minutes we had a chance. We had chances."
Nebraska had a list of things it needed to do in order to keep Missouri (15-2, 1-1) from getting off to a fast start, and it failed to do any of them.
Not only did the Tigers jump out to a 10-2 lead with the help of two Denmon 3-pointers, the Huskers failed to control the tempo of the game, keep Missouri out of the lane defensively nor win the rebounding department through the first 20 minutes.
Denmon scored 15 of his points on 5-of-8 shooting in the first half, while the Tigers led by as many as 13 and capitalized on six offensive rebounds and seven NU turnovers in the half. After the game, Sadler said Mssouri got the ball in the lane 47 times, which off hand he said was the most he'd seen from one of his teams.
Still, even though it felt like Missouri controlled every aspect of the half, Nebraska found itself only down eight points at 36-28.
"We went into the game wanting to do three things, and that was keep it out of the lane (and) limit their transition baskets and offensive rebounds," Sadler said. "I knew that if we could just get one of those three things done we would have a chance to be successful, but we didn't get any of the three done. Therefore, we came up on the short end."
After cutting the deficit to five on three separate occasions to start the second half, the Huskers put together an 8-2 run capped off by a lay-up by junior guard Caleb Walker that made the score the closest it had been since early in the first half at 44-41 with 16 minutes left.
However, just as things had gone the entire night, Missouri came right back with a 9-2 run of its own and bumped the lead back up to as many as 11 when Denmon picked up an errant pass by junior guard Brandon Richardson and took it the length of the court for a dunk to make it 69-58 with 3:45 to go.
The Huskers made one last push in the final minutes when they went on an 8-1 spurt, but four straight Tiger free throws with a costly Drake Beranek turnover in between them spoiled any chance for an NU comeback.
Walker finished with 12 points, while senior guard Lance Jeter scored all nine of his points in the second half to go along with five assists and four rebounds before fouling out late in the game. Missouri forward Ricardo Ratliffe added 12 points, seven rebounds and four blocks, and fellow forward Laurence Bowers added 12 points.
Things don't get any easier for the Huskers from here, as they will travel down to Lawrence to take on undefeated and third-ranked Kansas on Saturday at 1 p.m.
"Obviously you're going to Lawrence (against) a very good basketball team," Sadler said. "They haven't been beaten this year, so it's not going to be easy. But again, I'm looking forward to it. This team is competing, and we know it's not going to be easy but at the same time, it's something that you have to look forward to."