Nebraska head coach Doc Sadler knew the Big 12 Conference schedule would be a daunting task for his young and inexperienced team, and the first league game of the season on Saturday certainly confirmed his concerns.
After taking its first lead of the game with a little more than 11 minutes left in the second half, Texas A&M went on to outscore the Huskers 26-14 the rest of the way and hand NU a 64-53 loss in its Big 12 opener in College Station, Texas.
In particular, it was a 16-3 run by the Aggies late in the second half that all but ended Nebraska's hopes of picking up a big road win.
"The thing that concerned me coming into the game was I wanted to have a chance with five minutes to go in the game," Sadler said. "That's where toughness kicks in. You've got to find a way to win the game. Obviously they were little bit tougher than us mentally. They made plays and we didn't. Welcome to the road and welcome to the league. I can't say I'm totally disappointed though, especially when you look at the number of young guys I played. But we have to get tough quick."
With Nebraska (12-4 overall, 0-1 Big 12) leading 43-42 with a little more than nine minutes to go following a free throw by freshman forward Christian Standhardinger, A&M (12-3, 1-0) responded by passing up perimeter shots and attacking the basket instead.
As a result, the Aggies ended up scoring nine straight points, six of which coming off free throws by senior guard Donald Sloan and building a 49-43 advantage. Before changing its offensive approach, A&M had made just 2-of-20 3-point attempts.
Though time was running out, Nebraska was able to keep the game within reach when redshirt freshman center Brian Diaz made a lay-up to cut the deficit to 51-45 with 5:24 on the clock.
That would be about as close as the Huskers would get, however, as Nathan Walkup almost single handedly put the game away by taking a charge by NU redshirt freshman guard Eshaunte Jones and following with a 3-pointer and a lay-up on A&M's next two possessions to give the Aggies their biggest lead of the day at 56-45.
From there, Texas A&M shot 6-of-8 from the free throw line to keep the Huskers at bay. By the end of the game, the Aggies had shot 25-of-33 from the charity stripe, where NU was just 6-of-9.
"I think in all four losses this year, the biggest problem is putting teams at the foul line," Sadler said. "They shot 33 free throws and we shot nine, and you're not going to win many road games shooting (24) fewer free throws. We've got to get that cleared up also."
Standhardinger, who was forced to sit out the first 15 games because of NCAA transfer rules, led the way with a team-high 13 points and seven rebounds in his first regular season collegiate game. Diaz added 10 points and Jones finished with nine on 3-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc.
The road definitely doesn't get any easier for the Huskers, as they play host to No. 1-ranked Kansas Wednesday night at 8 p.m. With an obvious number of issues still needed to be resolved, Sadler knows the margin of error and time for improvement are smaller than ever.
"We've got to learn from this one, think about it, and when we come to practice on Monday, it's over," Sadler said. "When you go to a Big 12 school, the chances are at some point in your career you'll get to play against the No. 1-ranked team in the country. That's bad because they're really, really good. But it's good because that's what you want as a player."