If a win could ever be described as concerning, Nebraska's 57-41 victory over Jackson State would definitely come close to it.
While the Huskers were able to improve to 8-2 on the season, the dismal offensive performance was the last thing head coach Doc Sadler wanted to see as his team heads into the Las Vegas Classic next week and as Big 12 Conference play draws closer.
Had it not been for an even poorer performance by the Tigers - who dropped to 0-9 on the season - Nebraska could have been in much worse shape on Saturday night. The Huskers shot just 41.5 percent from the field and 10-of-22 from the free-throw line, and they failed to break the 60-point mark for the fourth time this year.
"As I've said so many times before, I don't think you can ever be disappointed when you win a basketball game, and I'm not," Sadler said. "But we've got a lot of work to do. Wow. Offensively, there's not a lot of execution that's going on right now, and as I told the team, you were pretty much going to win the Jackson State game.
"I'm very honest with our team before games, and I didn't think Jackson State could come in here and beat us. But we're not just playing Jackson State. We're trying to get ready for (the Big 12 opener) on Jan. 9, and I don't think we took a step forward tonight in any area. In any area."
Nebraska definitely didn't play its best half of the season by any means, but fortunately Jackson State was downright terrible.
While the Huskers shot an unimpressive 10-of-30 from the field for just 24 points in the half, the Tigers somehow managed a total of nine points on 3-of-23 shooting. The nine points were just one shy of tying the all-time record for fewest points in a half by an NU opponent.
The Huskers held North Carolina Central to seven points first-half points in a 71-28 victory in 2007.
After JSU senior Garrison Johnson hit a 3-pointer 41 seconds into the game, the Tigers went on to miss their next 15 shots and didn't score again until 4:53 left before halftime.
As bad as Jackson State was, though, Nebraska wasn't much better. The Huskers scored a total of six points during a 10-minute stretch midway through the half and connected on just 20 percent (2-of-10) of their 3-pointers.
"Very disappointed," Sadler said. "I mean, you go into halftime and you've made 10 of your 30 shots and 3-point shots? You've got to be kidding me. You go to the free-throw line four times and they've gone double digits - there wasn't anything at halftime that I was excited about. Nothing. Them scoring nine points didn't excite me because the last play of the half we should have taken a charge. They shouldn't have had nine points. There's just not a lot of positives except that we won the basketball game."
The slow start carried over on into the second half for NU, as it made just one field goal in the first seven minutes of the half to let Jackson State slowly climb back into the game. With the Huskers unable to find a way to get the ball in the basket, the Tigers eventually cut the lead to 27-20 with a little more than 12 minutes remaining.
The Huskers finally got something going when freshman guard Ray Gallegos hit a jumper and senior Lance Jeter followed with a 3 to put Nebraska back up 33-22.
Those shots ended up sparking a 24-7 run to bump Nebraska's lead back up to 51-27 with a little more than five minutes left, which proved to be just enough to put the Tigers away and close out the win.
Junior forward Quincy Hankins-Cole led the way with 15 points to go along with six rebounds, while senior guard Ryan Anderson added 10 points and five boards.
The Huskers' performance in the victory was especially concerning considering what their next opponent did against Jackson State only two days earlier. Nebraska is set to take on Tulsa on Tuesday to open the Las Vegas Classic, and the Golden Hurricane put up 92 points over JSU in a 53-point win.
"I know what's fixin' to hit this group, and we're not ready for it," Sadler said. "Thank goodness it's not Jan. 7 right now. I'm (eager) to get these guys on for two-and-a-half weeks with no time limit on the practice floor and let them really understand what it's about. They're going to wish they were back in school."
Sadler discouraged with NU's progress
Only 10 games into the 2009-10 season, Nebraska has already gone through a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows.
The Huskers have been able to post an 8-2 record thus far, but the manner in which they've won games this year hasn't exactly given much reason for confidence for Sadler or any of his players.
With an offense that's struggled to get any sort of consistent production from the field or the free-throw line which helped lead to two forgettable road losses against two of its better opponents, Sadler said he hasn't seen the type of progress from his team to feel good about its chances come the start of Big 12 play on Jan. 9.
"Am I seeing any progress? I don't know. I really don't know," Sadler said. "They're working as hard as a group could work, but they've been doing that since Day 1. I'm not disappointed that we won the ball game. Believe me, we could very easily be getting beat in some of these games. We've just got work to do. We've got a lot of work to do. As far as progress, I don't really know."
Sadler said he's been displeased enough with the Huskers' performance thus far that he scheduled their next practice for 5:30 a.m. Sunday morning, and that the early start could become a normal occurrence if their play doesn't pick up.
"It's not just tonight's game. We haven't played very well," he said. "If these (young) guys are going to be playing minutes, then they better be ready… You've got to try and make it as hard and as difficult as you can in practice, because they have no idea. They have no idea. It's just the way it is. I don't know. You've got to go through it.
"You'd like to have a situation where guys that are going through it for the first time aren't the guys playing, but this looks like the way it's going to be. Guys that are going through it the first time are the guys that are going to play. You can talk about it, and that's what we've been doing. But talking doesn't prepare you for it."
Hankins-Cole steps up
One of the few bright spots for Nebraska on Saturday was the emergence of Hankins-Cole. While the rest of the team couldn't seem to get the ball in the basket all night, the junior forward gave a solid performance on both ends of the floor.
Not only did he finish with a game-high 15 points, he did it on 7-of-8 shooting from the floor and tied for a game-high with six rebounds.
What made the performance even more impressive was the fact that it came in Hankins-Cole's first game back after missing the previous two games with a sprained MCL.
"It just happened to be a mismatch on the court at that time, so (Jorge Brian Diaz) told me to take advantage of it," Hankins-Cole said. "So I just did that."
Considering the how the rest of the night went for the Huskers, Hankins-Cole's play was a welcomed sight for Sadler. If the Roosevelt, N.Y., native can find a way to get that kind of production on a regular basis, Sadler would be even more relieved.
"I've told him from Day 1, he's as good as he wants to be," Sadler said. "But we've got to get it consistently out of him. He's that guy down there that can score, can defend. I'm not for sure he's not our best perimeter defender if he wanted to be. That's Quincy."