Behind a career-high 16 points from Caleb Walker, the Nebraska basketball team opened the 2011-12 season with a 65-48 victory over South Dakota Friday night at the Devaney Center.
Walker, a senior guard from Hutchinson, Kan., was a perfect 5-of-5 from the floor, including a trio of 3-pointers, to pace four Huskers in double figures. Walker topped his previous high of 13 set three times last season and also had seven rebounds in 24 minutes of action.
"Caleb shot the ball well, but he got open shots," head coach Doc Sadler said. "He's supposed to make those. I thought that after the second or third minute of the game, I thought what got Caleb off to a good start was that he got a couple of offensive rebounds and that's what he's got to do. I think defensively Caleb is playing as well as anyone."
Walker got the Huskers off to a quick start, scoring the first seven points for Nebraska, which led wire to wire in posting its 11th consecutive season opening win.
Three other Huskers joined Walker in double figures, including Jorge Brian Diaz, who had 11 points and a career-high five blocked shots while Brandon Richardson and Dylan Talley had 10 points apiece.
Talley, a junior college transfer from Camden, N.J., nearly recorded a double-double in his debut, as he snared nine rebounds and had five assists in 20 minutes off the bench.
"Nothing bothers Dylan," Sadler said. "He could be playing in downtown New York City or at Madison Square Garden and he doesn't know the difference. He's just going to go out there and play. He has some good qualities but at the same time he had some turnovers. I would say right now that on this team, there is nobody more ready to take a big shot because it's not going to affect him one way or the other. He's just going to have to keep getting better defensively."
Diaz and Toney McCray keyed a decisive run for the Huskers, as Nebraska used an 11-2 spurt to turn a four-point lead into a 13-point bulge. Diaz, the 6-foot-11 center, got the run started with a dunk before hitting a short jumper on NU's next position.
McCray, who came off the bench to score eight points and grab six rebounds, than added a pair of baskets to key the run of eight unanswered Husker points. Moments later, Talley stretched the lead to 31-18 with a three-pointer, as the Huskers eventually took a 12-point lead into the half.
South Dakota, which returned four starters from a team that won 18 games last year, made a run in the opening minutes of the second half to pull within 31-22, but Nebraska responded with six straight points, capped by Brandon Richardson's 4-point play to make it 37-22 with 16:13 left.
From there, Nebraska used its long range shooting to keep the Coyotes at bay, hitting 5-of-9 from 3-point range in the final 20 minutes, and never trailed by less than 10 points.
The Huskers held a South Dakota team that averaged 79 points per game last year to 48 points on 31 percent shooting. Louie Krogman led USD with 16 points.
"Obviously the first game you are playing against a team that plays 40 minutes of zone and that's not something that we play much of," Sadler said. "I thought as the game went along, we did attack it a little bit better. The turnovers that we had; there were four or five of them that I didn't mind because we were trying to feed the post.
"With anything, though, I thought our three-point shooting was a little bit better than it was the other night, but our free throw shooting and offensive rebounding on the other team and turnovers are obviously things that over these next eight or nine ball games we've got to get better at. We're going to have some tough games and they are all going to be tough. We have to get the turnovers down to 10 or 12 and we can't give up 10 offensive rebounds like we did tonight."
Nebraska returns to action Monday night, as the Huskers travel to USC. Tipoff is set for 9:30 p.m. CT and the game will be carried on the Husker Sports Network and also televised on Prime Ticket.
***Nebraska has now won 11 straight season openers, while Sadler is now 8-0 as a Division I head coach in openers (2-0 at UTEP; 6-0 at Nebraska)
***Walker had a career-high 16 points, topping his previous high of 13 set three times last season. Walker also had a career-best three 3-pointers in the win.
***With the win, Sadler moved into sole possession of fourth place on Nebraska's career wins list with 90. He moved past Barry Collier, who had 89 wins in six seasons. Sadler is now 90-71 at Nebraska
***Diaz had a career-high five blocked shots tonight, the 26th time in his career he has had multiple blocked shots in a game. His previous best was four against Kansas State on Feb. 23, 2011.
***With five blocked shots tonight, Diaz upped his career total to 84, moving into ninth place on NU's career list. Diaz passed Cookie Belcher, who had 83 blocks between 1997 and 2000
***Nebraska has now won its last 25 home non-conference games, which ranks fourth in school history. The Huskers are now 49-1 at home in non-conference games over the last six seasons.