As Nebraska fans said goodbye to four seniors on Wednesday night, the frustration and disappointment that has marred the majority of the season filled the Devaney Center one last time on Senior Night.
Plagued by yet another cold shooting performance, the Huskers couldn't keep up with Iowa in what ended up a 62-53 loss in their final home game of the season.
Nebraska (12-16 overall, 4-12 Big Ten) shot just 36.5 percent from the floor and was a dismal 4-of-24 from 3-point range, as the Hawkeyes (16-14, 8-9) used a big second half rally to pull away and hand NU its seventh loss in its past eight games.
What has already been a forgettable end to their collegiate careers this season, Wednesday night's loss hurt the most for seniors like Brandon Richardson.
"I wanted to leave this arena knowing that I got a win, especially the last time that I was going to play here, but it didn't happen," said Richardson, who had two points and six assists in his final game in the Devaney center. "That's part of the game. I've been really blessed to be in this situation, to be a Husker. My thanks goes to the fans and the cities of Lincoln and Omaha, and the state of Nebraska in general."
Neither team could buy a bucket for the majority of the first half, as Nebraska shot just 28.6 percent from the field to Iowa's 37.5 percent through the first 20 minutes of action.
With both teams utilizing tough zone defenses, it quickly became a game of jump shots. The only problem was both squads couldn't seem to knock down an open look, especially from beyond the arc. The Huskers made just one of their 11 3-point attempts in the first half, while the Hawkeyes hit just 1-of-7.
Iowa finally got something going in the final 10 minutes of the half, as they put together a 12-4 run over the span of four minutes to take their biggest lead of the half at 23-15 with 5:31 to go.
The Huskers were able to hold Iowa scoreless the rest of the half, though, and they added four points over the final five minutes to cut the deficit to 23-19 going into halftime. The 19 points marked the second game in a row NU failed to reach the 20-point mark in the first half.
Junior forward Brandon Ubel scored eight of his team- and career-high 17 points in the first half on 4-of-4 shooting to lead Nebraska, while Iowa's Aaron White scored eight of his points in the first half.
"It was just a couple breakdowns on our end, just as far as communication and letting guys get shots, not communicating as far as not knowing where the shooters were," Richardson said. "I think we gave up offensive rebounds too during that stretch. Like I said, we had a few breakdowns that we can't have, especially in the second half, and we just never recovered from it."
Nebraska was eventually able to chip away at Iowa's lead and cut it to within one after a pair of free throws by senior guard Caleb Walker made it 31-30 with 15 minutes left. Less than a minute later, Walker got the Devaney crowd of 8,039 rocking with a huge one-handed dunk, and it looked like the Huskers were about to reclaim the momentum and the lead.
That energy didn't last much longer, though, as the Hawkeyes quickly quieted things down with four straight 3-pointers that sparked a 15-3 run following Walker's dunk, putting them up by their largest lead of the night at 49-35 with 10:16 remaining. The Huskers went a full five minutes without a point during the run.
Nebraska cut the lead back down to single digits, but never came closer than seven points the rest of the way.
Ubel added seven rebounds to his 17 points and was a perfect 7-of-7 from the field, and Walker ended up with 15 points for the Huskers. Guard Matt Gatens led Iowa with 16 points and five rebounds, while Bryce Cartwright and Roy Devyn Marble both followed up with 11 points.
The Huskers will wrap up the regular season at Minnesota on Saturday, with tip-off set for 11:30 a.m. CT. After that, they will play as either the No. 11 or 12 seed in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis on Thursday.
"Obviously I'm very disappointed for our four seniors that we weren't able to get the win," head coach Doc Sadler said. "Again, I thought that the guys tried, and probably tried a little bit too hard and maybe took some ill-advised shots. But it wasn't because they weren't trying. They wanted it so bad, and you feel for guys like that because you talk about things for four and five years for these players, and it's hitting home to them now. It's sad to sit there, as I told Coach (Tom) Osborne in the pre-game, the things that you talk about are the things that are coming true."
Around the rim
***With questions about his job status looming as large as ever, Sadler was asked what he felt his future at NU held.
"I haven't really thought about that," Sadler said. "I signed an extension last April, and I plan on seeing that through. Those things, guys, I don't worry about… I just hope to get up in the morning and be able to take my kids to school. If I can do that, I'll be a lot happier than a lot of people. That's all I look forward to, is the next day."
***Richardson was asked what it's been like to play for a coach who has been on the hot seat as Sadler has been, and he said Sadler has never let his situation become a distraction for the team.
"You know what, Coach Sadler is behind us," Richardson said. "He's not looking at what's happening outside. He's worried about the team and the team only. He couldn't care less what's happening, and that's what I respect Coach Sadler about. He's not thinking about distractions or anything. It's about the team and the team only. I commend Coach Sadler for what he's been going through, and like I said, I'm behind him 100 percent."
***Nebraska finishes the home season with a 9-8 home record, but has finished with a winning home record every year since the Devaney Center opened in 1976-77.
***Ubel's 17 points topped his previous career best of 15 against Oregon earlier this season. It is the second straight Big Ten game Ubel has finished in double figures, as he had 13 at Michigan State on Saturday. He is 13-of-16 from the field over the last two games.
***Walker's 15 points was his highest total in a conference game in his career (previous best was 13 on two occasions, most recently against Illinois). NU was 5-1 prior to tonight this season when Walker reached double figures.
***Richardson's six assists marked the fifth straight game he has had at least five assists. Richardson also had two steals for the 15th time this season he's had at least two in a game.
***Nebraska is now 6-for-41 from 3-point range in the last two games.
***Senior guard Bo Spencer was held to eight points, the first time in his Husker career he has been held out of double figures in consecutive games.
***Nebraska falls to 2-11 this season when being held under 60 points.