While many had already written off Nebraska after its sputtering start to Big Ten Conference play, the Huskers showed they still have a little magic left on Wednesday night.
With their backs against the wall, the Huskers came up with one of their best overall efforts of the season to pull out a stunning upset over No. 11 Indiana at the Bob Devaney Sports Center.
Senior point guard Bo Spencer scored a game-high 23 points, and junior center Jorge Brian Diaz drained two crucial free throws with just 11 seconds left to give NU its second conference win and swing the momentum, if only for the time being, back in the Huskers' favor.
The win also marked Nebraska's first victory over a ranked team since knocking off No. 24 Missouri in Lincoln last season.
"I think it goes without saying what a great win this was for our team," head coach Doc Sadler said. "Things didn't always go the way we wanted them to go either… It was a good win guys, it was a great win. What can you say? We needed it and needed it bad. A couple of you that have been coming to practice have commented that this team has faced a lot of adversity and for them to keep practicing like they have is pretty impressive. The game was won in the last two days. We got lucky and we hit some shots, but we took good shots."
With Indiana leading by one with just 23.8 seconds remaining, Hoosier guard Jordan Hulls missed the front end of a one-and-one at the free throw line to give Nebraska the final possession to go for the win.
After a timeout by NU, Sadler drew up a perfect play that got the ball underneath to Diaz, and he was fouled and sent to the line for two shots with 11.0 left to play.
Diaz, a 65.5 percent free throw shooter on the season coming into the game, calmly hit both of his attempts to give the Huskers their first lead since 14:11 in the first half.
The Hoosiers took the ball down court for their final possession, and Hulls ended up driving and throwing up a questionable no-look lay-up that didn't come close. Hulls was able to track down the rebound, and heaved up a fade-away prayer while falling out of bounds that clanked off the back of the rim.
Time expired, the final buzzer sounded, and Nebraska could officially celebrate its biggest win of the season.
"We really needed that," Spencer said. "It was a huge win for us. We knew coming into this game that these two games that we had coming up against Indiana and Ohio State were going to be two of our biggest games at home, and we needed to protect the home court. Coach Sadler had been preaching that the whole year, protecting our home court. We knew for us to try and go on a run, it would have to start tonight."
While Nebraska's offense had been much maligned over the past six games, the Huskers came out as hot as they'd been all season shooting the basketball. Unfortunately, Indiana was even hotter.
Behind 15 first half points by Spencer, Nebraska shot 41 percent from the field and hit five 3-pointers. However, the Hoosiers shot a blistering 62 percent, including five 3s of their own, to take a 41-34 lead into halftime.
Things might have started much differently for the Huskers had it not been for the play of Spencer early on. Indiana led for the majority of the half, but the native of Baton Rouge, La., almost single handedly kept his team within reach, scoring 11 of NU's final 19 points of the half.
Indiana freshman forward Cody Zeller, who came in averaging a team-high 14.8 points per game, scored 10 of his team-high18 points in the first half to lead the Hoosiers.
"In the first-half, I thought Indiana's offensive efficiency was so good and they were getting it down the floor on us," Sadler said. "They were rim-running with their post. They knew to get into those ball screens and I thought for two days at practice we did an excellent job and it was just a whole different level of speed and we didn't make the adjustment in the first-half on the defensive end.
"You have to give them credit because that is the strength of their basketball team. On our offensive end, I thought we were impatient. That is something that when one team starts scoring points, if you aren't careful, you'll start falling into that trap. I definitely believe that the strength of Indiana is their offense and we couldn't match them getting up and down the court."
The offense definitely slowed down for the Huskers to open the second half, as they went without a field goal for the first five minutes to allow Indiana to go on an 8-0 run and take its biggest lead of the night on a dunk by Zeller that made it 49-36.
The Hoosiers kept NU at arms reach until just under six minutes left in the game, when a 3-pointer by senior guard Toney McCray sparked an 11-2 run that brought the Huskers back to within two points when junior guard Dylan Talley hit a trey with 3:24 left to cut it to 65-63.
A pair of free throws by Zeller bumped the lead back up to four, and Talley made the second of two shots from the charity stripe to make it 67-64 with 1:42 to go. After a timeout by Nebraska, Richardson was fouled with 51.4 seconds remaining and hit both of his free throws to cut it to 67-66.
Hulls hit both of his free throws on the ensuing possession to bump the lead back up to three, and after an NU timeout, Spencer missed an open 3-pointer. Luckily Talley was there to haul in the rebound and put it back in to make it 69-68 with 23.8 left.
Nebraska was called for a quick foul on the ensuing inbounds pass, but Hulls missed the first free throw on a one-and-one to give the Huskers the ball back with one timeout remaining, and Diaz took it from there.
"We came a play called 'hand back'," Sadler said. "We have run it three or four times and it's a guard-wing entry. It's a moving screen, and McCray sets enough of a screen to knock a guy off. He was able to turn the corner and they came over and again, it was a very unselfish, good basketball play that Bo made to (Diaz). They executed it. They executed it and didn't panic.
"(Diaz) was very clutch. He stepped up there and made 'em."
Diaz finished with 10 points and nine rebounds, while McCray scored 11 and Talley added 10 and a career-high nine rebounds for the Huskers.
Nebraska won't be able to celebrate for too long, as No. 6 Ohio State comes to town on Saturday. The Buckeyes roughed up NU 71-40 in Columbus back on Jan. 3.
"We're going to enjoy this win, but we have to enjoy it real short," Spencer said. "We come in tomorrow, and after tomorrow at three o'clock when we come in to lift weights, it's over with. After we come in the gym, it's over. We're going to have to prepare for Ohio State, because they kind of manhandled us up there."
Around the rim
***Sadler said Diaz hadn't practiced the past two days as he continues to deal with his lingering foot injuries. Sadler said he expected that would likely continue to be a situation for Diaz, as would continue to be limited in practice in order to keep him fresh for games.
***Tonight's win marked Nebraska's first over Indiana since a 38-18 home victory on Feb. 6, 1920.
***The win was the ninth over a ranked team in Sadler's six seasons at Nebraska.
***Indiana had been a perfect 8-0 on the season when shooting 50% or better from the field. The Hoosiers shot 51% against the Huskers, including 44% (8-18) from the three-point line.
***The Huskers' 13-point second-half comeback was the second time they've overcome a double-digit deficit this season, as they came back from down 10 against TCU.
***Sadler has now led the Huskers to seven wins during his career after trailing by double digits in the second half.
***Spencer's 23 points gave him his fifth 20-point game of the season, the most since Ade Dagunduro had five in 2008-09. The total was also the most by a Husker in Big Ten play this season.
***Senior guard Brandon Richardson finished with three steals, his sixth game with at least three steals this season.
***Nebraska's 10 3-pointers tied their season high, as it also hit 10 against Rhode Island
***Nebraska's 30 3-pointers were also a season high, topping the previous high of 25 against Michigan State.