Nebraska had its chances, but the bounces and the calls simply didn't go its way when it needed them in an 83-76 loss to Oregon on Wednesday night.
After trailing by as much as 15 points midway through the second half, the Huskers came storming back and tied the game up at 75-75 with two minutes left to play. That was as far as they would get, however, as the Ducks kept them at bay with clutch free throws down the stretch to hand NU its first loss of the season.
Junior center Jorge Brian Diaz scored a game-high 21 points while junior guard Dylan Talley added a career-high 18, but it wasn't enough top an Oregon squad that just made more plays when all was said and done.
"You've got to give Oregon credit," head coach Doc Sadler said. "I thought they played harder, and what I mean by that is you can't score 76 points at home and get beat. You can't do it. There's very few teams, and I told the team, you look at tonight's ball games, any home team that played that scored 76 points, they probably won the ball game.
"Give our guys some credit, they fought back and fought back and got the ball game right there tied, and now it's a 50-50 ball and we give up the offensive rebound. That's credit to Oregon. They made the play and we didn't."
It was a back and forth first half, as both teams put together a few big scoring runs and saw nine lead changes.
The Huskers got out in front first on back-to-back 3-pointers by Caleb Walker and Bo Spencer to give NU an 18-12 lead with a little under 14 minutes left in the half.
That lead didn't last long, though, as the Ducks came back with a 15-3 run while Nebraska went nearly five minutes without a field goal, giving Oregon a 27-21 advantage with 9:37 to go.
As quickly as they lost the lead, the Huskers picked it right back up on a 15-5 run of their own, capped off by a basket by Walker to make it 36-31 with five minutes remaining in the half.
Once again, Nebraska went on another cold shooting streak and let the Ducks climb back into the lead with a 14-2 rally in which seven of their final nine points in the run came from the free throw line.
It wasn't until Talley hit a 3-pointer with 44.3 seconds left in the half that the Huskers finally snapped a four-minute scoreless streak. Talley made a pair of free throws with 22.7 to go to send NU into halftime trailing 47-43.
Forward Brandon Ubel scored 10 of his career-high 15 points in the first half, while Talley led all scorers through the first 20 minutes with 13 points off the bench.
The second half got off to a rough start for Nebraska, as it was hit with five fouls in the first five minutes to help Oregon go on a 7-0 run to take the biggest lead of the night by either team at 59-49 with just over 14 minutes to play.
The Ducks controlled the game for the next seven minutes and led by as much as 15 before Nebraska came back with one last rally. Behind yet another 14-2 run that was finished with a 3-pointer by Talley and an And-1 conversion by Diaz, the Huskers came all the way back to make it 73-72 with 3:30 left in the game.
Nebraska finally tied it back up at 75-75 on an improbable runner off the glass by Spencer with 2:02 to go, and it looked like the Huskers had all the momentum they needed to pull out the come-from-behind win.
"We just fought back," Talley said. "We're never going to give up. We believe in each other, we believe in our team and we believe in Coach and what he teaches us to do. We just practice hard and we learn to just keep at it. There's going to be adversity, but you've just got to push through it and things will turn. They started to turn tonight, but we just didn't finish it."
Unfortunately, that would be the end of their good fortune. After getting a key stop on Oregon's next possession, Ubel was hit with a moving screen foul with 1:07 remaining. The Ducks then missed a 3 the next time down court, but got the offensive rebound and a foul on Richardson to go to the line.
E.J. Singler hit both of his free throws with 43.2 left to go back up 77-75, and then Talley just missed a 3-pointer coming out of a timeout. Oregon hauled in the rebound, and Garrett Sim went to the line and added two more free throws to increase the lead to 79-75 with 23.4 remaining.
Sim ended up a perfect 8-of-8 from the free throw line and 4-of-6 from beyond the arc for a team-high 20 points.
After another missed 3 by Spencer, the Ducks pushed the lead up to 81-75 on a pair of free throws by Tyrone Nared. Richardson went to the line and intentionally missed the second attempt after making the first, but the ball didn't hit the rim and went back to Oregon.
Singler put in two more from the charity stripe with 9.0 seconds left to officially put an end to Nebraska's bid for a comeback.
"They missed some free throws, they get an offensive rebound on the free throw," Sadler said. "They missed a shot late, they get an offensive rebound. You can't defend and be successful until you get the basketball, and we didn't finish it off."
Spencer ended the night with 11 points and five assists, but shot just 3-of-11 from the field and was 1-of-4 from 3-point range.
Nebraska will try to get back on track on Saturday when it plays host to South Dakota State, with tip-off set for 1 p.m. CT.
Around the rim
***Even with it being the night before Thanksgiving, Nebraska had by far its best crowd of the season, as the actual listed attendance was 9,587. Sadler credited the fans as one of the main reasons his team was able put together its second-half rally.
"I cannot say enough about our crowd," Sadler said. "I thought that they were a huge, huge factor in the run that we made, and I can't tell you how much this team appreciates that and we need that. We don't make that run without this kind of crowd."
***Sadler said a big reason why Nebraska fell behind by so much towards the end of the first half and on into the second was because Oregon was able to get the ball into the lane seemingly at will. The Ducks scored 18 points in the paint, and Sadler estimated they had at least 30 touches in the lane.
"Any time they wanted it," Sadler said. "That hasn't been an issue, but it was tonight. Again, I thought their cuts were harder. I thought we were very fortunate to get back in the ball game. Very fortunate."
***The loss snapped Nebraska's 26-game home non-conference win streak, which dated back to Dec. 30, 2008. Nebraska is now 50-2 in non-conference home games under Sadler
***Richardson's one steal in the game was the 100th of his career.