Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013. That was the last time Nebraska won a true road game, a stretch that had spanned nearly 13 months and weighed on the Huskers more and more with every loss that piled up away from Pinnacle Bank Arena.
That streak finally came to an end for the Huskers on Saturday, as they fought through a physical and overall ugly game at Northwestern and came away with a much-needed 53-49 victory.
After scoring a season-low 16 points in the first half, Nebraska (12-10 overall, 4-6 Big Ten) looked like a different team after halftime and shot 57 percent from the field to outscore the Wildcats 37-27 in the second half. Sophomores Terran Petteway and Walter Pitchford, who led NU with 17 and 15 points respectively, combined to score 25 of the Huskers' second-half points
"That was a great second half," head coach Tim Miles said during his post-game radio show on the Husker Sports Network. "I thought we got some offensive flow. We were trying some different things in the first half, nothing well… So we went back to some different things in the second half which had been good for us, and we got a little rhythm."
The Huskers' struggled offensively to open the game as much as they have in any half this year, setting a new season-low for points in a half with just 16 on a dismal 6-of-24 (25 percent) shooting from the field and 2-of-11 from 3-point range.
A basket by Pitchford tied the game at 10-10 with 10:58 left in the half, but NU would go more than 6:30 without another point after that and eventually trailed by six with five minutes left. Layups by sophomore Shavon Shields and junior David Rivers cut the deficit to 17-14 with just under three minutes to go, but a 3-pointer by guard Tre Demps with 40 seconds sent the Wildcats into halftime up by six.
"I just thought they were just so physical, it was hard for us to adjust to that," Miles said. "This reminded you of the old days Big Ten, really."
Something changed with the Huskers when they came out of the locker room to start the second half, though, especially with Petteway and Pitchford. The duo combined to score Nebraska's first 14 points of the half and sparked the Huskers on an 8-0 run that reclaimed the lead at 30-27 with just under 13 minutes remaining. Sophomore point guard Benny Parker provided NU with a huge lift defensively off the bench, and gave the Huskers their biggest lead yet with a steal and And-1 finish on the other end to make it 38-32 with 9:55 to go.
"I thought Benny was great," Miles said. "You look at guys like Benny, who created two or three turnovers into transition. I thought he was really critical for us today, and we needed his defensive intensity, because Tai (Webster), we weren't getting a lot out of Tai today."
Just when it looked like Nebraska had taken control of the game, Northwestern came storming back with an 8-0 run of its own behind consecutive 3-pointers by senior Drew Crawford to tie it up at 44-44 with 3:52 on the clock. Needing someone to step up and make a play, Pitchford answered the call with five straight points to put Nebraska back on top, and then Petteway buried a clutch 3 to make it 52-46 with just 23.3 seconds to play. Sanjay Lumpkin responded with a trey on the Wildcats' ensuing possession, but a Petteway free throw with 14.2 left pushed the lead up to four and sealed the victory.
Along with his game-high 17 points, Petteway added a game-high eight rebounds and a team-high four assists in a great bounce-back performance following his struggles last time out at Michigan. Pitchford had five rebounds to go along with his 15 points, while JerShon Cobb led Northwestern with 14 points and Crawford finished with 13.
Nebraska will finally return home on Wednesday night for the first time since Jan. 30 when it hosts Illinois at 8 p.m. on the Big Ten Network. With the road game monkey finally off their backs, the Huskers are hoping to build off of Saturday's momentum and close out the final eight regular-season games with a bang.
"It just counts as one, and it means most people aren't going to talk as much about (being winless on the road) now, because when you don't have one, that's what comes up," Miles said. "But at the same time, we have to focus, because Illinois is going to be a tough team. They're dangerous. They were ranked as high as 23rd in the country not more than a month ago."