With two of its top scorers watching from the bench, Nebraska once again had to get creative with its lineup in an 82-58 exhibition win over Bellevue on Monday night.
Junior guard Toney McCray was a last-second scratch from the lineup due to his issues with plantar fasciitis and sophomore forward Christian Standhardinger sat out for the entire first half because of a lingering cough, and the Huskers struggled to establish any sort of offensive rhythm without them.
The offensive problems were in large part due to the fact that NU couldn't seem to hold on to the ball, as it committed 25 turnovers in the win. The most turnovers the Huskers committed all of last season was 20 in losses at Creighton and Kansas State.
As a result, Nebraska had to rely on its big men to provide the bulk of the scoring. Sophomore center Jorge Brian Diaz led the way with a game-high 17 points, five rebounds and three blocks, and junior center Andre Almeida added 10 points and six boards off the bench.
"Just lackadaisical," head coach Doc Sadler said of his team's play. "Just not being into the game. That's all it was. You can't make unforced errors like that. To sit there and turn the ball over 25 times, you've got to be kidding me. You've got to be down to eight or nine at the most."
After a slow start last week, Nebraska got things going a little better on Monday and jumped out to a 9-2 lead to open the game. But the good start didn't last long, as the Bruins hit three 3-pointers to come back and tie the game at 13-13 with 12 minutes to go in the half.
A pair of 3's by guards Lance Jeter and Caleb Walker and then a nice steal and lay-up by Walker put the Huskers back up 21-13, but once again Bellevue came right back and cut the deficit to 21-18 on a 3 by guard Jeremy Cruise with 9:10 left.
Sophomore forward Brandon Ubel ended the rally with five straight points, and Nebraska steadily rebuilt its lead to as much as 18 points and went into halftime with a 43-25 lead.
The Huskers were able to keep the Bruins at bay the rest of the second half, but it was anything but pretty and they were never able to put Bellevue away completely, despite the 24-point final margin.
The undersized Bruins ended up hauling in 16 offensive rebounds to Nebraska's six, and the Huskers shot just 58 percent from the field and 67.9 percent from the free throw line.
"I don't know many things we did good after the first half," Sadler said. "I thought we did some nice things the first half, but the second half was about as bad as basketball as you can play, and I don't think it was anything that they did, it was more of what we had done.
"To get beat like that on the offensive glass, that's just guys on the other team playing harder than you did. So I guess that's something that (Bellevue) did do. It gets frustrating for our guys maybe to be out there defending smaller guys, but that's what you've got to do."
Sophomore guard Ray Gallegos scored 10 points, while Jeter and fellow guard Eshaunte Jones both added nine. Bellevue's Ben Imig scored a team-high 14 points with the help of four 3-pointers.
Needless to say, as the Huskers get ready to enter the official start of their regular season schedule on Friday against South Dakota, there's still a lot left to be cleaned up and figured out with short amount of time to do so.
"It got frustrating there at times knowing we should've been playing a lot harder," said Ubel, who finished with nine points, "but I guess I'd rather do that now than on Friday."
Around the rim
***As mentioned earlier, McCray was held out because the plantar fasciitis he's been dealing with in his foot and Standhardinger was benched until the second half because he's been sick with a bad cough.
Sadler said he originally expected McCray to play, but decided to bench him just hours before the game after he, McCray and NU's trainers opted to give McCray a cortisone shot in his heel to ease the pain.
"We ended up giving him a shot probably about 4:30 or 5 (p.m.), and that's why he didn't play," Sadler said. "I just made the decision (that) I would rather have him ready for practice on Wednesday than the game tonight. You need to be off that thing after a cortisone shot for 36-48 hours. That's kind of what that's about."
Sadler said there's a chance McCray could deal with the injury for the rest of the season, as the only way to truly get over the injury is to rest and not put an unnecessary stress on the foot for a several weeks.
***As for Standhardinger, who had eight points and eight rebounds despite playing just 13 minutes, he was limited because of a lingering cough that has bothered him for some time now.
"Christian for weeks has had an unbelievably bad cough," Sadler said. "I don't know how bad that is, but we've got to get him well."
***Junior guard Brandon Richardson was also held out of the lineup due to the high ankle sprain he suffered in Wednesday's game against Peru State. Sadler he was hopeful that Richardson would be able to return to practice on Wednesday and be ready to play again on Friday, but he made no guarantees.
"Hopefully he'll be able to go a little bit on Wednesday and hopefully he'll be ready by Friday, but again, if it's not I'm not going to rush it," Sadler said. "We've got a huge week next week also."