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The ball just wouldn't go in.
With three straight chances to score the game-winning basket in the final nine seconds, a lay-up by Terran Petteway and two tip-ins by Leslee Smith all missed their mark, as Nebraska fell one play short of pulling off the upset over Michigan in a 71-70 loss on Thursday night.
Though the Huskers (8-7 overall, 0-3 Big Ten) shot a season-high 53.1 percent from the field and held a 27-19 rebounding advantage, the Wolverines (11-4, 3-0) just seemed to do them one better the entire night. Led by a game-high 19 points by Glenn Robinson, UM hit a blistering 62 percent from the floor and out-scored NU 21-7 off of turnovers. That was just enough to hand Nebraska its first ever loss inside Pinnacle Bank Arena
"At the end of the day, I thought our guys did a pretty good job of maintaining a mentality that we're in this game, we're competing to win, and we're going to find a way to win," head coach Tim Miles said. "Until the (last) shot didn't go in, I still thought we were winning. I mean, when we had the last shot, I still thought, 'We're winning this game.' And I was just stunned when we didn't."
Nebraska went blow for blow with Michigan in the first half, even after seeing an early lead fall to a 19-14 deficit following two-straight baskets by UM power forward Jordan Morgan with 11 minutes left in the half. Luckily for the Huskers, Ray Gallegos was there to come to the rescue. Having struggled mighty offensively the past three outings, the senior guard knocked down three consecutive 3-pointers to cut it to one point, and sophomore forward Walter Pitchford made it four in a row to give NU the lead at at 26-24 with just under seven minutes to go.
"My teammates were looking for me and just told me to stay confident and just keep shooting," Gallegos said. "So that's kind of what I did, just moved off the ball."
An offensive rebound by freshman point guard Tai Webster and ensuing timeout allowed the Huskers to hold for the final possession, and junior guard Deverell Biggs capitalized with a drive and layup to tie it up at 30-30 with 4.5 seconds remaining. That proved to be more than enough time for Michigan to get the last laugh, though, as freshman guard Derrick Walton drained a 45-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the Wolverines into halftime with a 33-30 advantage.
"We just ignored it, really," Miles said of Walton's buzzer-beater. "I mean, what can you do? You just say hey, don't worry about it. Whatever. The guys I thought played a pretty good defensive half. I thought Michigan really made a lot of shots, but I thought we played good defense. Now the second half, that's a different conversation."
Michigan kept the momentum going to open the second half, as it pushed its lead 42-36 on a bucket by Caris LeVert with just over 16 minutes to go. Just like it did the entire game, though, Nebraska was able to answer by putting together an 11-3 run capped by a steal and lay-up by Gallegos to give the Huskers their first lead of the second half at 45-44 with 14:37 remaining.
The teams would essentially trade baskets for the next 10 minutes, as the score never got wider than five points either way during that stretch. Finally, with just over one minute left to play and the game locked at 69-69, Webster came up with a steal and Petteway was fouled on the other end with just 33.2 seconds left to play with a chance to give Nebraska the lead. Petteway made the front end of the one-and-one, but the second free throw rimmed out, giving Michigan a chance for the go-ahead basket.
Rather than put the ball in the hands of Nik Stauskus or Robinson, though, the Wolverines turned to the freshman Walton, who drove to the rim and drew an And-1 with a basket and a controversial blocking call on Smith with 21.8 remaining. Walton missed the ensuing free throw, leaving UM's lead at 71-70.
The Huskers called timeout with 9.3 seconds left to play, and then Michigan followed up with a 30-second timeout of its own. Biggs finally took the inbounds pass and quickly dished it to Petteway, who drove right and put up a contested lay-up. The shot missed, but Smith was there under the basket for the tip. That wouldn't go, either, but Smith tipped it again with one last chance to win the game. The ball still wouldn't go through, and the final buzzer sounded to put an end to Nebraska's hopes of victory.
"All I was thinking about was getting to the rim," Petteway said. "I had made a layup five times before that and then missed the game winner. It kind of hurt. It's the worst feeling letting your teammates down at the last second when we could've won against Michigan."
Petteway led the Huskers with 16 points, while Gallegos and Biggs both finished with 14 points and Pitchford added 12. Still winless in Big Ten Conference play, Nebraska will have to rebound quickly before heading back out on the road on Sunday when it travels to take on Purdue.
"You can't feel sorry for yourself," Miles said. "You go tomorrow and you practice, then you fly out on Saturday and you play Sunday at 11 a.m. Purdue's been sitting there for a week waiting on us, and they will punish us if we're not ready to compete. So we've just got to get back in the fighting mode."
Around the rim
***Prior to Thursday night's loss, Nebraska had been a perfect 8-0 in games decided by five points or less.
***Sophomore forward Shavon Shields was held to just four points on 1-of-5 shooting in the loss, marking yet another frustrating outing for the team co-captain. Miles said Shields has been playing with a knee injury the past few games which has impacted his production.
"Shavon's got a testy knee that's really sore," Miles said. "You can see it in his legs. We've got to get him healthy."
***After getting blown out by 31 points their last time out at Ohio State, Petteway said it wasn't much of a moral victory for the Huskers to nearly knock off Michigan.
"You can say that, but we all don't like losing," Petteway said. "We lost by one to Michigan, but it still hurts. It's not a good feeling. I don't want to lose to nobody, really. We should've won the game."
***Miles said in retrospect he questioned his call on the final play a bit, thinking he may have been better off keeping the ball in Biggs' hands to go make a play off of a screen-and-roll.
"You know, you sit there and that's the first thing I said coming off, 'Oh boy, should I have ran it for Dev?'" Miles said. "Dev really had some good screen-and-roll stuff go for him, but Terran was kind of making a whole bunch of plays late."
***Miles said he wasn't surprised at all with the way his team played Thursday night coming off the big loss to the Buckeyes.
"Well, anyone with a shred of pride would have come back and fought harder, and I'm glad we did that," he said.