Talk about starting off with a bang.
In its Big 12 Conference season opener, Nebraska literally escaped in the final second with a 63-62 win over Iowa State Saturday night at the Devaney Center.
With 6.3 seconds left in the game, Iowa State had the ball with a chance for the winning basket, but ISU's Diante Garrett was stripped by Husker guard Lance Jeter as he drove through the lane.
Jeter took the ball the length of the court and was fouled just before time expired, giving him two free throw attempts with 0.4 seconds put back on the game clock. After missing the first attempt, Jeter drained the second to give the Huskers their 11th straight victory, tying their longest streak since 1993-94 and marking the sixth-longest in school history.
"Gosh, it feels so good to win a close ball game like that," head coach Doc Sadler said. "As we said earlier, close ball games have not been kind to us, and this year now we've found a way to win a couple. I think you just saw a different team and different mindset. We didn't panic.
"Once you get into league play, you'll take any win. The biggest thing is these guys are maybe finding some way to win ball games."
After an impressive first half performance, Nebraska saw a 12-point lead evaporate to open the second half after the Cyclones came out with a 16-4 run and took their first lead of the game at 67-64 on back-to-back 3-pointers by guard Scott Christopherson and jumper by Garrett with 14:29 remaining.
The lead changed hands two more times down the stretch until Garrett and Melvin Ejim hit consecutive 3s made it 60-57 with 4:26 to play.
While Nebraska was able to keep pace with the Cyclones off of free throws, it definitely didn't help itself by not making a single field goal for the final 7 minutes, 13 seconds of the game.
Even so, junior guard Toney McCray went 1-for-2 on two straight trips to the line with 1:35 and 1:10 remaining, respectively, to eventually tie the game at 62-62.
After getting a stop on Iowa State's ensuing possession, Nebraska came out of a timeout and had a terrible offensive possession of its own that ended with senior guard Drake Beranek heaving up a desperation 3-pointer as the shot clock expired.
Luckily, Jeter was there to save the day in the very end. After stripping Garrett on ISU's last play, Jeter was fouled by Ejim in the final second, and after watching replays the officials put 0.4 back on the clock for Jeter to shoot his free throws.
"Coach definitely got us prepared for that last play," Jeter said. "He definitely knew they were going to drive, and Garrett was dribble penetration all second half, so we knew he was going to do that again. He turned his back (on the drive) and I just took a chance and basically got lucky."
Nebraska came out in the first half with a level of intensity on both ends of the court that it hadn't quite shown during non-conference play, and it reflected in a 39-29 halftime lead.
In particular, Beranek and junior guard Caleb Walker provided the biggest sparks through the first 20 minutes. Walker, who had been relatively quite the past few games, came out scored 11 of his team- and career-high 13 points in the opening half to go along with eight rebounds in the game.
Beranek, who made just his second career start on Saturday, had nine points and seven rebounds on the night, including five points and six boards in the first half.
Jeter ended with 10 points, seven assists and six rebounds, while McCray added 12 points. Garrett led Iowa State with a game-high 18 points.
The win couldn't have come at much more important time for the Huskers, who will now head out for road trips to Missouri on Wednesday and Kansas on Saturday as they continue through the Big 12 grind.
"It just feels good to start off with a win," Jeter said. "It gives us confidence, because we know we have a tough one on Wednesday. So just going into that game knowing we have a tough win, that just gives us a lot of confidence going into these road games."
Around the rim
***Not only did Walker put up career numbers, he also had what Sadler called easily the best overall game of his Husker career on Saturday night.
"I thought the first half he was about as good as he's been since he's been here," Sadler said. "He was solid."
***Though he finished with just three points and two rebounds, Sadler said one of NU's most valuable players in the game was sophomore guard Ray Gallegos, primarily because of the way he defended Garrett in the second half. While Garrett had 18 points, he shot just 8-of-16 from the field and had five turnovers.
"I think the biggest guy who helped us down the stretch was Ray Gallegos," Sadler said. "Ray did about as nice of a job as anybody could do on Garrett."
***Oddly enough, Saturday's win was the first one-point victory Nebraska has ever had under Sadler, as its last one-point win came against Oklahoma back on Jan. 7, 2006.