It may have been a 28-point win on the scoreboard, but Nebraska's 81-53 victory over Texas-Pan American was anything but a blowout.
The Huskers (5-1) were eventually able to pull away in the second half, but the Broncs (1-7) gave them everything they could handle for the first 24 minutes of the game. Had it not been for NU's 9-of-12 shooting from 3-point range and a late second-half run, Wednesday's game could have ended much differently.
Senior guard Ryan Anderson played as big of a role as anyone in finally getting Nebraska's offense going, as he finished with a game-high 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the field to go along with four steals.
His biggest impact came when he sparked a 22-2 run in the second half in which he scored 11 points and had two steals.
Head coach Doc Sadler said he's always happy with a victory, but that he was disappointed with the overall effort his team displayed throughout the night.
"There's just so many games you get a chance to play, and you've got to come with an energy that is second-to-none every night out," Sadler said. "Besides Ryan Anderson, I'm not sure that our team did that out of the first four starters… The thing that I told our team was you've got to go out there no matter who the opponent is each and every night and be ready to play."
To call Nebraska's first half performance a shaky start would be somewhat of an understatement, as the Huskers let UTPA hang with them basket for basket throughout the half and was never able to pull away as originally expected.
It didn't help that the Broncs matched NU's five 3-pointers in the opening half to keep things close, but the Huskers blew an early 17-8 lead and eventually let UTPA take a 22-21 advantage on a put-back dunk with 7:28 left in the half.
To make matters even worse, sophomore guard Brandon Richardson was knocked out of the game after blindly running straight into a screen with a little more than six minutes to go. Richardson had already missed some time this season with a back injury, and he did not return to the game the rest of the night.
Sadler said Richardson might be able to practice on Thursday, though it will likely be a day-to-day situation.
Nebraska didn't finally reclaim a substantial lead until freshman guard Ray Gallegos drained a pair of 3-pointers and followed with a long jumper to put NU back up by 10 with roughly five minutes left, and the Huskers eventually took a 40-32 lead into halftime.
The struggles continued for Nebraska into the start of the second half, as it was still unable to get any runs going and put the game away through the first four minutes of the half. At one point, the Broncs cut the lead to five with roughly three minutes into the half.
Finally, Anderson stepped up and took matters into his own hands, sparking the Huskers on a 22-2 run with a little more than 16 minutes to play. Anderson scored 11 points during the run, including a pair of lay-ups off steals with a 3-pointer wedged in between.
All together, the Seattle native scored 16 of his 22 points in the second half.
"Anytime you play hard, plays seem to come to you," Sadler said. "You get your hands on balls. I hope and think that Ryan understands that this is his last little circus trip, and so he better not waste it. He comes with a lot of energy. As I've said before, if you come with energy, good things happen."
Nebraska eventually led by as much as 30 after the scoring spurt and cruised through the final minutes for the win. However, Sadler said he hopes his team learned a thing or two about not taking any game for granted, no matter the opponent.
Chances are the Huskers won't have any problems with overlooking their next opponent, though, as they travel up to Omaha on Sunday to take on instate rival Creighton at 4 p.m.
"I told the team, you can get pretty sassy - as (former UTEP coach Don Haskins) used to call it) - after a so-called big win," Sadler said. "I bragged on them maybe too much and told them the amount of calls that I had gotten from coaches about how hard they played on Sunday and it was a credit to them. If it would have been on national TV tonight I probably would have gotten the same calls saying that we were sassy."