After going 12 full days without playing a game, Nebraska picked up right where it left off and cruised past North Dakota 77-46 on Monday at the Devaney Center for its ninth straight victory.
Sophomore guard Eshaunte Jones and sophomore forward Brandon Ubel led the way with 11 points each, as the Huskers (11-2 overall) had 11 total players score in the game and held their ninth straight opponent to less than 60 points.
Despite the lopsided win, head coach Doc Sadler said he was disappointed that his team showed some of the rust it did on occasion during the game.
"I thought at times our urgency was okay, but for the most part I was not very pleased with the urgency that we had," Sadler said. "I understand coming off a lay-off and stuff like that, but I thought we'd been practicing much better and much harder and we played consistently. I thought at times we played with some urgency, but as I told the team, that's something that we definitely have to understand in these ball games.
"We've got to understand who we're playing against and that we're playing basically at some point against ourselves. We've got to improve in that area."
You wouldn't have known Nebraska hadn't played a game in nearly two weeks with the way the game started, as both teams came out firing for a somewhat uncharacteristically offensive first half.
Trailing 9-8 roughly four minutes into the game, the Huskers went on a 12-2 run to jump out to a 20-11 lead. The Fighting Sioux chipped away at the deficit and brought it back to seven at one point, but eight straight points by Jones to close the half gave the Huskers a comfortable 36-20 advantage heading into halftime.
Led by Jones' eight points, NU had a total of nine different players score in the first half. Jones finished the night 3-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc.
"Eshaunte is a big key for us, because he's the one guy who can go out and get us four or five 3s in a half," Sadler said. "His defense has really, really improved."
Nebraska finally showed a little bit of rust to open the second half, though, as it made just two field goals through the first five and half minutes of the half. Meanwhile, North Dakota made it a 13-point game on a 3-pointer by 6-foot-10 guard Patrick Mitchell with 15:27 to go.
Just like that, the Huskers came back with another 13-0 run with the help of back-to-back 3s by Jones and junior guard Brandon Richardson to push the lead back up to 52-28.
The Fighting Sioux made a few more brief rallies over the next five minutes, but never came closer than 19 points the rest of the way.
"We've always thought we were a good team, we just have to go out and play hard every time and don't have these little lapses where sometimes our energy goes down," sophomore center Jorge Brian Diaz said. "If we can figure that out, I think we'll be alright. We'll be pretty good."
Diaz scored 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting and hauled in a game-high seven rebounds for Nebraska, while junior center Andre Almeida had 10 points off the bench.
The Huskers won't get much of a break before returning to action, as they come back and play host to Savannah State on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Should NU win Wednesday, it would equal its longest winning streak since 1994-95 (10).
"We needed to play," Sadler said. "Wow, it's been a long time since we played, and just to get out there and to play against someone else was good… Confidence wise, we needed some confidence going into this season. We've talked about that. I think right now our guys are pretty confident, pretty loose."
Around the rim
***Junior guard Kamyron Brown checked into the game with about four minutes left in the first half to mark his first appearance in a game since South Dakota back on Nov. 12. Brown finished the night with two points, two rebounds, two assists, a block, a steal and a turnover in 10 minutes. He had been suspended the past 11 games for an undisclosed reason.
"I think more than anything Kamyron, offensively, helps the team because he pushes the basketball and the flow," Sadler said. "Right now we're not near as good of a defensive team with him. He's got to do a much better job of denying and containing the dribble, but offensively he does push the ball down the floor."
***Sadler said redshirt sophomore center Christopher Niemann was held out because of soreness in his knee.
***While McCray started the game for just the fifth time this season, Sadler said he doubted the junior guard would become a fixture in the starting lineup. He said McCray started primarily because Sadler wanted to see how he played with the normal starters to open a game.
***Senior guard Drake Beranek didn't score a single point in Monday's win, but Sadler said he's playing as well as any guard on Nebraska's roster at the moment.
"Right now I think Drake is playing as good as any of our perimeter people," Sadler said. "I think he's more confident, he's playing more loose and he's always played hard."
***With just one day before the next game, Sadler said he was a bit concerned about how the Huskers' full week would affect them heading into Saturday's Big 12 opener against Iowa State. Monday's game was supposed to be played on Sunday, but blizzard conditions in North Dakota kept the Sioux from safely traveling.
"I would've rather played yesterday obviously because Saturday (against Iowa State) is down the road and I was going to give the team an off-day and we weren't able to do that," Sadler said. "We've been going now for quite a while, and now it's going to be all the way through Sunday before they can actually get a day off. I hope that's not an issue."