KANSAS CITY - No one ever expected Nebraska would walk off the Sprint Center court with a 75-60 win over Missouri in Wednesday's first round of the Big 12 Tournament.
Well, no one outside of the Huskers' locker room, that is.
While seemingly everyone had written NU off as a one-and-done team, the No. 12 seed Huskers responded with arguably their best overall performance of the season to knock off the No. 5 Tigers, last season's tournament champions.
Nebraska shot 55.8 percent from the field, hit 8-of-14 3-pointers and made more free throws (19) than Missouri even attempted in the game (18). With the win, Nebraska moves on to the second round to play No. 4 Texas A&M at 2 p.m.
"Today we just made some plays and we shot the basketball well," head coach Doc Sadler said. "The last couple of days we've talked heavily about offensive execution, and I thought today, you know, it looks a lot better when you shoot the ball. But I thought for about 32 minutes it was about as good as we could execute offensively."
The first half couldn't have gone much better than Nebraska could have hoped for, as the Huskers were on fire offensively while also playing solid defense and limiting Missouri's fast break opportunities.
Leading 10-8 after the first four minutes, a jumper and a 3-pointer by senior guard Ryan Anderson sparked a 16-1 run for NU that eventually gave it a 26-9 advantage a little more than 10 minutes into the half.
Missouri was able to chip away and cut the lead down to eight on a pair of free throws by Marcus Denmon with 5:12 left, but Nebraska responded with a 7-2 spurt, highlighted by a 3-pointer by junior guard Lance Jeter as the shot clock expired to go back up 39-26 with 50.2 seconds left in the first half.
The Tigers got the last word of the half on a put back at the buzzer by Laurence Bowers that made it 39-28 going into halftime, but the Huskers still shot 59.1 percent (13-of-22) from the field through the first 20 minutes compared to Missouri's 35.5 percent.
"We made some shots early," Anderson said. "We got off to a nice hot start. We were rebounding the ball and not giving them many second shots, and they couldn't get into their press. When you're not making shots, you can't get into your press, and that slowed the game down."
The Huskers carried that momentum over into the second half, as they opened up with a 7-0 run to bump their lead up to 46-28 less than two minutes in. A basket by Anderson with 14:49 gave NU its largest lead of the day at 19, and suddenly it started to look as if it could actually pull off the upset.
Missouri didn't exactly go down that quietly, though.
Helped by a six-minute scoreless streak by Nebraska, the Tigers were able to pull to within 10 with four minutes left on two free throws by guard Michael Dixon. However, Missouri was only able to score six points during NU's scoring drought, which ended up being possibly its costliest missed opportunity of the season.
On Nebraska's ensuing possession following Dixon's free throws, sophomore guard Brandon Richardson made what he called the biggest play of his career when he converted a four-point play after being fouled on a 3-pointer with 3:36 remaining. Needless to say, the play swung the momentum right back in the Huskers' favor.
From there, the Huskers hit 10 straight free throws to close out the game and secure the victory. Richardson ended the day with a game-high 19 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the floor, while Anderson followed up with 16 points and nine rebounds. Jeter and redshirt freshman center Jorge Brian Diaz both added 10 points.
Missouri's Laurence Bowers scored a team-high 11 points, but he was the only Tiger to score in double figures.
When Nebraska takes on Texas A&M on Thursday, it will get a rematch with a team it went blow for blow with until the final minutes on the road to open Big 12 play. This time around, the Huskers are riding more momentum than they have all year, and they're expecting a much different result.
"It's another day and another chance to fight," Jeter said. "We've got Texas A&M tomorrow. We played them in the first game of the Big 12 when I feel that we were young and inexperienced. I feel like tomorrow's game is going to be a different story. I think we've got a good chance. It's going to be a good game. We've just got to execute do what we've got to do, and hopefully the last five minutes be in the game and make it happen again."