Nebraska had plenty of glaring issues to address in its 66-55 win over Southern on Sunday night, but in this case, the Huskers will take a win any way they can get it.
In the official start to the Tim Miles era following Thursday night's exhibition win, Nebraska (1-0) never trailed but had to hold off a pesky Jaguars squad that came within as close as three points in the second half and never quite went away.
Senior forward Brandon Ubel had his best game as a Husker with a career-high 21 points and 12 rebounds, marking just his second career double-double, while senior guard Dylan Talley and junior guard Ray Gallegos followed up with 17 and 16 points, respectively.
Despite the decent numbers in the final stat line, the Huskers had their share of offensive and defensive problems against their Southwestern Athletic Conference foes, including a few more concerning scoring droughts and late defensive breakdowns.
Still, Miles said the win was a good start to what he hoped would be gradual and consistent improvement.
"We really want to come through for our fans," Miles said. "We really want to show them we can build a winner, and it starts with this team. So I just wanted this team to come out and get a good victory. I felt good for a long time, and then we just made enough mistakes to kind of keep us all edgy."
Nebraska came out shooting significantly better than it did in its exhibition opener against Midland University on Thursday, as it quickly jumped out to 12-2 lead to start the game. Southern finally got going beyond the arc and hit three 3-pointers to cut the score to 16-14 with 12:16 to go in the half.
With the help of one of Gallegos' best halves of basketball at NU, though, the Huskers were able to push the lead back up 27-15 with another 11-1 scoring run. At one point Gallegos scored seven straight points and ended up with 12 of his 16 points in the first half on 5-of-9 shooting.
"Ray's got such good athleticism, first of all," Miles said. "I mean, the way he raised up on one jumper tonight, I was stunned, and I've seen a lot of stuff. I was just stunned with how high he was elevating on a jump shot. He's got such good athleticism. He's got a nice shot."
As good of a start as it was for NU, some of the same offensive struggles that plagued it against Midland came back to close out the first half. The Huskers scored just two points in the final 4:46 of the half, and the Jaguars were able to chip away at the lead and make it 31-25 going into halftime.
Nebraska still shot 50 percent from the field (14-28) in the first half, but eight turnovers and zero points off the bench helped allow Southern to keep it within reach.
After Ubel ended the first half with just five points, he scored seven straight out of the gates to open the second and led an 11-2 run that pushed the lead back up to 42-31. Ubel's double-double was his first since Dec. 7, 2011, in a win over Florida Gulf Coast.
"Coach Miles challenged me and Andre (Almeida) at halftime, just saying that those guys couldn't guard us in the post if we really demanded the ball and if we played physical," Ubel said. "I just came out and played aggressive and realize now that's how I have to play from the jump."
Just when it seemed like the Huskers were going to put the game away, though, Southern clawed its way back.
A basket from Malcolm Miller with 3:57 brought the Jaguars to within eight at 56-48. The Huskers certainly helped Southern's rally by going a full four minutes without a point during that stretch, but they did enough to hold on for the win.
"I felt we did a really good job early, and then when we got tired in both halves we just quit guarding the ball," Miles said. "I mean, it was just as simple as get back, get ready, guard the ball, and we just did a poor job of that, and that's mental. I think a lot of our defensive errors are just mental."
Nebraska ended the night shooting 51.9 percent (28-54) as a team, out-scored SU 32-20 in the paint and out-rebounded the Jaguars 34-26. Southern shot just 39.6 percent (19-48) from the field.
Freshman point guard Benny Parker, who became the first true freshman to start an season opener since 2009, finished with eight points and just one turnover in 31 minutes on the court. Southern's Derick Beltran, who put up 26 points against Iowa State earlier in the week, scored a team-high 17 points.
The Huskers will return to action on Thursday night when they open the Joe Cipriano Nebraska Classic against Valparaiso, with tip-off set for 8 p.m.
Around the rim
***As good as Gallegos was offensively Sunday night, Miles said it was far from his best performance on defense.
"It was completely opposite on the defensive end," Miles said. "I screamed 'Ray!' at the top of my lungs I don't know how many times."
***Nebraska shot just 10 free throws in the game, making seven. In fact, the Huskers were just 1-of-1 from the line in the first half.
"We don't get fouled on a regular basis at all," Miles said. "That worries me a great deal."
Ubel said getting to the line was just a matter of taking an overall more aggressive approach offensively.
"That's something that we have to improve on as a team, getting to the line, because that means that we're playing aggressive and getting to the rim and we're getting easy looks," Ubel said. "I think in the first half we only shot one, so that was kind of a point of emphasis for us in the second half, and Coach Miles says it all the time, to like the 3 but love the rim. So we just kind of took it upon ourselves to get to the rim a little bit more, get fouled, and even if you're not getting to the line you're getting layups, getting offensive rebound opportunities and stuff like that. So that's something we need to improve on."
***Junior point guard Mike Peltz played just 11 minutes and didn't score a point in the win. Miles said Peltz has been nursing a sore knee, and hopefully he would get healthy soon to help handle the workload in the backcourt.
"You could tell it was like he was stuck in third gear, was his quote," Miles said. "Mike's better than that, and hopefully we can get him healthy and get him back in the floor, because he's going to be a valuable guy for us I think."
***The win marked Nebraska's 1,400th in the program's 117 seasons of basketball. It also was its 12th straight win in a season opener, improving the Huskers' record to 35-2 in season openers at the Devaney Center.