In a game where no one aspect stood out in the final box score, it was a play by senior guard Drake Beranek that won't show up in the stats that probably best epitomized Nebraska's 65-54 win over Oklahoma State on Saturday night.
With the game going back and forth midway through the first half, the scrappy Ravenna, Neb., native came from behind OSU's Keiton Page and went full extension through the air to knock the ball out of his hands.
Teammate Lance Jeter chased down the loose ball for the steal, and just like that, the Huskers' home court swagger came rushing back onto the Devaney Center floor.
"I feel like that (play) just set the tempo right there that we were coming to play," Jeter said. "Drake's always been known for that, just giving up his whole body. That's something you need. You need that spark. Somehow he's always the person that's giving it to us, and that's something that we definitely needed. That's just Drake. He's a hustle guy."
As a result, Nebraska snapped a three-game losing streak with a desperately needed win over the Cowboys. Led by 16 points from Jeter, the Huskers out-shot, out-rebounded and overall out-played OSU in one of their better performances since the start of Big 12 play.
While it didn't do any one thing spectacularly, Nebraska did seemingly everything one step above Oklahoma State. The Huskers shot 44 percent from the field (22-of-50) compared to OSU's 36 percent (18-of-50), and they out-rebounded the Cowboys 38-28 while shooting 83.3 percent from the free throw line to 68.4 percent from OSU.
Jeter was the only NU player to score in double figures, but five other players scored at least seven points in the win, including eight points and seven rebounds from junior guard Caleb Walker, who played just five minutes in Wednesday's loss to Baylor.
Defensively, the Huskers rarely gave Oklahoma State an open look. Along with holding the Cowboys to 5-of-15 shooting from 3-point range, NU held OSU to shoot just 4-of-16 inside the 3-point line in the second half.
"With their offense, they come off a lot of picks," Jeter said. "So just being there when they were catching the ball off their picks definitely had to frustrate them, because those are usually open shots for them. That's just credit to the coaching staff."
Possibly the most important stat, though, came in the foul department, as Oklahoma state shot just 13-of-19 free throws on 18 Nebraska fouls. In losses to Baylor and Kansas, NU sent its opponents to the line a combined 77 times.
"Tonight's game was big for us," head coach Doc Sadler said. "Our kids came back from going to Baylor and had two good days of practice. We had spent all day Thursday just defensively on going back to trying to make sure that we were keeping the ball out of the lane and being fundamentally sound, because as we all know, we've been fouling too much. I thought we did a much better job of doing that… When we keep teams off the free throw line, I think our defense is pretty good."
After taking an eight point lead late in the first half, the Huskers had a golden opportunity to increase their lead to double digits going into halftime after they got an offensive rebound and a subsequent timeout with 32 seconds left with the shot clock turned off.
However, they ended up turning the ball over with 10 seconds left, and Oklahoma State's Markel Brown took the ball the length of the court for a dunk to make it 31-25 going into halftime.
Despite the ending to the first half, Nebraska came right back and regained the momentum to start the second half by opening with an 11-4 run to take their biggest lead of the night on a 3 by Beranek to make it 46-34 with 13:19 to play.
The Huskers would go on to increase their lead to as much as 15 midway through the half after junior guard Brandon Richardson scored on a steal and lay-up with 7:41 remaining to make it 60-45.
The Cowboys made one last run when guards Ray Penn hit back-to-back 3s and Page made a jumper with his foot just on the 3-point line to cut the lead to 62-53 with 2:20 left, but Jeter sank a 3 on the ensuing possession to all but seal the victory.
Sophomore forward Jorge Brian Diaz had eight points, six rebounds and two blocks, while sophomore guard Eshaunte Jones also added eight points on 2-of-4 shooting from 3-point range.
Forward Marshall Moses finished with 18 points and six rebounds for Oklahoma State, while Page added 14 points but shot just 2-of-7 from beyond the arc.
While the win was definitely gratifying for the Huskers, they won't spend much time relishing it, as yet another Big 12 road game is next up on the schedule when they travel to take on Oklahoma on Wednesday night. In case you hadn't heard, Nebraska has lost its past 13 league road games.
"As I told the team after the game, it was a great win for us tonight, but we haven't done anything," Sadler said. "Until we prove that we're tough enough to go on the road and get a win, then you're just another basketball team. You've got to win on the road. You've got to be able to go win on the road. We've got three road games left, and we need to go give it our best effort."
Around the rim
***Even Sadler pointed to Beranek's diving play in the first half as one of the emotional keys to the game for Nebraska.
"I thought Drake Beranek, the play that he made in the first half where he tipped back the loose ball, was about as big as there's been because it really got the crowd in the game at that point, and they stayed in it from that point on," Sadler said.
When asked about the play, Beranek said he was merely doing what came naturally.
"I like to kind of layout a little every once in a while, reaching back to my baseball days diving into second," Beranek said. "I've done it before, and I'm telling you, in Big 12 play, possessions are huge, and anytime you can get an extra possession I'm going to do whatever I need to do to get that possession, whether it's take a charge or dive like that or whatever. As long as we secure the ball, then that's what I'm going to do."
***Another play that got its share of attention - albeit for completely different reasons - came when Jeter leaped out of bounds to try and save a loose ball. While throwing the ball back into play, however, he ended up hitting Diaz with it directly in a very sensitive area, forcing Diaz to go down to the ground for a moment to, um, regroup.
"After the game, (Diaz) said 'You got me,'" Jeter laughed. "I just had to apologize. When I looked at (the replay), it looked like it hurt. I was just grinning and said 'I'm sorry, Diaz.' He's not speaking to me right now though."