It was going to be awfully hard for Nebraska to suffer a loss any worse than the 10 other defeats it already had on its record, but it somehow found a way on Wednesday night.
With a chance to pick up just their second Big 12 Conference win of the season, the Huskers couldn't even get a shot off on the final possession of the game and fell to No. 24 Baylor 55-53 at the Devaney Center.
After a 3-pointer by sophomore guard Brandon Richardson gave NU a 53-50 lead with 2:20 left in the game, Baylor came right back behind four straight points by forward Epke Udoh, including a jump hook with 25.0 seconds on the clock that put the Bears up 54-53.
Baylor had a chance to make it a 3-point game when forward Acy Quincy was fouled after a stagnant offensive possession by Nebraska (13-11 overall, 1-8 Big 12) that ended in a missed 3-pointer by Richardson. Quincy hit the second of two his free throws to give Baylor (18-5, 5-4) a two-point lead with 9.3 seconds to play.
With one last possession to either tie or win the game, junior point guard Lance Jeter penetrated and tried to pass the ball away, but the pass was tipped. Jeter regained possession and backed behind the 3-point line for a last-second trey, but his shot was blocked again, and the ball bounced away as time expired.
"I told the team, effort is one thing, and we're giving it, but you've got to make baskets," head coach Doc Sadler said. "In the last minute-and-30 something, we had three different things called, and we just broke down in all of them. I didn't have any timeouts, and we had three special plays called and had plenty of time. We just didn't execute, and that comes back to me. It's my responsibility to have them execute a little bit better than they did."
Nebraska had one of its worst first-half shooting performances of the season, but fortunately Baylor was just as bad. Despite shooting 34.4 percent (11-of-32) from the field and 2-of-12 from 3-point range, the Huskers went into halftime with a 27-23 lead.
Baylor also was cold from the floor (35 percent), but the real difference was arguably the play of sophomore guard Myles Holley. Leading 14-13 with nine and a half minutes left in the half, Holley got the crowd and his teammates up and going when he threw down a nasty one-handed dunk along the baseline.
A couple minutes later, the Norfolk, Va., native slammed home another dunk in similar fashion to give NU its biggest lead of the half at 20-15.
Baylor eventually cut the lead to 22-21 with a 6-2 run, but a basket by Holley and a 3-pointer from Jeter put the Huskers up 27-23, which held to the end of the half as neither team scored in the final two minutes.
Nebraska held onto its lead through the first 10 minutes of the second half, but as has been the case for the past month, the final 10 minutes proved to be their downfall. The Bears scored eight straight points and took a 45-40 lead with 9:14 remaining.
The Huskers responded well and quickly cut the deficit to as few as one point before reclaiming the lead on Richardson's 3 with 2:20 to go. As the final score indicates, however, the rally didn't last much longer.
Altogether, Nebraska shot just 31.6 percent from the floor and hit just 4-of-21 from beyond the arc. The one bright spot was that its three turnovers in the game tied a school record.
Holley, who had just 15 total points through his first eight Big 12 games, led the way for NU with 11 points. Richardson and redshirt freshman guard Eshaunte Jones both added 10 points.
As usual, things don't get any easier for the Huskers, as they travel down to take on No. 14 Texas on Saturday at 3 p.m. While they'll obviously be trying to rebound before then, it may be harder than ever to do so this time around.
"It's kind of tough right now," Holley said. "We're last in the Big 12, and we've got like this big burden on our back. We're not matching people's toughness. We've got to match people's toughness, night in and night out. Without that, people are just going to think we're soft and they're going to come straight at us. We're just letting them do it.
"If we don't knock somebody on their butt or give them one good hard foul just to let them know we're here, then they're just going to continue to do it. We've got to get tougher."
Holley's has bittersweet breakout game
Wednesday's loss was the best game of Myles Holley's young Nebraska career, but he couldn't care any less about his performance because it came in defeat.
Even though he led the team in scoring and had three highlight-reel plays in the process, Holley said his play didn't mean a thing because it wasn't enough to snap the Huskers out of their losing ways in Big 12 play.
"The game don't mean nothing without the win," Holley said. "It's not about me getting my points. It's about the team. It's just like somebody scoring 40 and losing. 'Oh I had 40.' It doesn't matter. You've got to win. It's all about the team, it's not about you. I just came in to contribute and help my team, whether it was a rebound, a dunk, a block, whatever I've got to do. It's all about the team."
Against Baylor, Holley was the first player off the bench, and he played 21 minutes after averaging a little less than nine minutes per game on the season. His 11 points were also well above his season average of 3.8 per game.
Because of the zone defense the Bears used, Sadler said he wanted to play Holley more because he showed success against some zone defense when NU played at the Las Vegas Classic against BYU and Tulsa.
Though he was quick to dismiss it, Holley's game was especially impressive considering the rash of injuries he's had to overcome, including surgery on his knee and sprained AC joint in his shoulder.
Despite his setbacks and his inexperience, Sadler said Holley has been one of the Huskers' best leaders in the locker room this season. If he could only stay healthy, Sadler said, performances like Wednesday night could become routine for Holley.
"He's active and he plays hard," Sadler said. "I told him yesterday in practice he was going to be the first guy (off the bench), because he plays hard. It's a shame Myles is not healthy. If he was healthy, no telling what he could do. There's no better teammate in that locker room than Myles Holley. That's why you just hate it for him, that he's not healthy."
Last-second lost hurts more than the others
After dropping nine of its past 13 games, losing hasn't exactly been a new thing for Nebraska to deal with in recent weeks. However, following the two-point loss to Baylor, the Huskers seemed a little more beaten down emotionally than usual.
Though they took the lead into the final minute and had three chances to either tie or win the game the rest of the way, the Huskers still found a way to lose a game they not only arguably should have won, but also a game that would have done wonders for their confidence going down the final stretch of the season.
"It hurts real bad," Richardson said. "We do the things that we were supposed to do at the beginning of the game, and then at the end of it, when it counts, for the most part we're not tougher. I hope for the rest of the year that we can match or exceed our opponents' toughness. That's what it's going to take to win."
While Sadler placed the loss on his shoulders, his players were quick to take the blame for not executing when it mattered the most.
"It hurts, but you're more disappointed because we broke down in the last minute," Holley said. "We didn't execute. It's a disappointing loss. We know we had the game. We played hard, but it came down to execution. We've got to get better. I don't put it on Coach. He said that was on him. I don't put it on him. That was on us. He can't play for us. We've just got to get better, execute when we're tired and play harder."
Around the rim
***Senior guard Ryan Anderson came into Wednesday's game as Nebraska's leading scorer (10.3 ppg), but was held scoreless for the first time since losing to Kansas on Jan. 13, 2009.
Senior guard Sek Henry was also scoreless in the loss, and the Huskers' veterans combined to shoot just 0-of-5 from the field.
***Eshaunte Jones went 2-of-5 from 3-point range, giving him 35 treys on the year and moving him into a tie for sixth place on NU's all-time list along with Jake Muhleisen (2002).
***Though Baylor fell out of the ESPN/USA Today Top-25 poll following Saturday's loss to Texas A&M, it was still ranked 24th in the Associated Press poll. That means Nebraska has now played three straight ranked opponents (Kansas State, Kansas). Assuming the current rankings hold, the total will reach five in a row when the Huskers travel to take on the No. 14 Longhorns and No. 9 Kansas State the next two games.