With the national spotlight shining on Nebraska for its first Big Ten/ACC Challenge showdown with Wake Forest, the Huskers could never quite get things figured out offensively and suffered their second loss in three games, 55-53.
Nebraska definitely had its chances to put the Demon Deacons away, particularly with the game tied at 53-53 with 46 seconds left and the Huskers getting the ball coming out of a timeout. However, senior point guard Bo Spencer missed a tough shot in the lane to give Wake Forest the ball back, and guard C.J. Harris scored the game-winner on a lay-up with 3.4 seconds remaining.
After losing just one non-conference home game in six seasons under head coach Doc Sadler, Nebraska has now dropped two already in its first six games. Wednesday night's loss was just NU's fourth non-conference defeat ever in the Devaney Center when holding an opponent under 60 points.
"It's solely on me," Sadler said. "I put the most selfish offensive basketball team on the court that I think I've put on the court in a long, long time. We had plans to go inside because we thought that was our advantage, and we come out and shoot 23 3s. I told the team in several timeouts and at halftime, 'I don't even recognize what we're doing. If I don't, your teammates surely can't.'
"We got an eight-point lead early in the first half, and we've got to learn to put it away. I mean, you get beat at home and hold a team to 55 points? Maybe all the talk by me and everybody else about how good our offense is and how efficient we are, I think it is, but not when it's selfish. That's on me. That's on me."
Both teams were ice old from the floor offensively to open the game, as Nebraska went just 1-of-10 from the field and Wake just 1-of-8 in what was a 2-2 game through the first five minutes.
Things finally started to pick up for the Huskers, and a 3-pointer by senior guard Caleb Walker put NU up by its biggest lead of the first half at 19-11 with 7:25 to go.
Behind the shooting of Harris and forward Travis McKie, though, the Demon Deacons rallied back to cut the lead to 26-25 on an And-1 conversion by McKie with 46.3 seconds to go in the half.
That score would hold on into halftime, as Nebraska ended up shooting just 33 percent from the floor (10-of-33) and Wake Forest just 40 percent (10-of-25). Spencer led the Huskers with seven points in the first half, while McKie and Harris both had eight for the Demon Deacons.
A 3-point contest broke out to start the second half, as the two teams combined for five 3s in the first six minutes of action. Spencer helped the Huskers keep pace with two treys during the stretch, while Wake's Carson Desrosiers hit two of his own.
While Wake Forest led for the majority of the second half, Nebraska stuck right with it throughout, never trailing by more than three points, tying it four times and even taking the lead for a brief moment with roughly 11 minutes to go.
The Huskers made their best push of the second half when McCray buried a 3-pointer from the corner to put NU up 53-52 with 2:03 left. The Demon Deacons quickly tied it up on a free throw by McKie with 1:48 to go.
After both teams traded missed 3s on the next two possessions, Nebraska had a chance to take the lead coming out of a timeout with 19 seconds left in the game. Even after drawing up a play on the bench, the Huskers had to settle for a tough running floater by Spencer in the lane that clanked off the backboard and gave the ball back to Wake with 16 seconds remaining.
"We decided that if they would've went man, we would've ran a man play, and if they went zone we had a zone play ready," Spencer said. "They went zone, and they extended it so far out that I tried to penetrate it. I just looked at it and I saw I had a kick out (pass) I could've kicked out to Dylan (Talley), but I tried to shoot a floater and ended up missing it. I was kind of pressured at the time trying to get a good shot, a quality shot. I normally can make it, but I didn't make it. That's it."
As if there was any doubt, the Demon Deacons put the ball in Harris's hands in the final seconds, and he was able to drive into the lane for an uncontested lay-up with 3.4 seconds left to go up 55-53.
"That's two games in a row at home that it's game point or right there around game point, we give up direct line lay-ups off the dribble," Sadler said. "We give direct line lay-ups off the dribble. Until our guards can guard the basketball, you're vulnerable to get beat."
Spencer threw up a half-court prayer as time expired, but the ball bounced off the back of the rim to hand Nebraska the loss.
Spencer led the Huskers with 13 points and three assists, while McCray and Diaz both added 12. Chase Fischer and Desrosiers both led Wake Forest with 13 points.
Maybe the most telling stat of the night for either team was Wake Forest committing just nine fouls in the entire game and NU not shooting a single free throw in the second half and just four total on the night.
The Demon Deacons have given up 117 free throw attempts in their previous six games this season.
"Selfish. Selfish," Sadler said when asked the reason for NU's lack of free throw attempts. "Look at the number of times that their opponents have been going to the free throw line. Look how many times we went."
It may just be six games into the season, but Nebraska has already dropped two winnable games at home, and the road certainly won't get any easier the rest of the way. It's still far too early for the Huskers to panic, but there is definitely already plenty of reason for concern.
"I don't know what it is, but we've got to get it turned around and get it turned around fast," Spencer said. "I guess we've got to do some deep searching and see what we're going to do. We've got to stick together. We can't just drop our heads and keep losing. We've got to stay together and fight through it."
Around the rim
***On Tuesday, Sadler talked about wanting to see more swagger from his team and wanting them to believe they could win games like this. Against Wake Forest, he said the Huskers may have had a bit too much confidence.
"I think if anything, we had no respect for the opponent," Sadler said. "Like I've said, I've not seen that team (Nebraska was) tonight, and that's totally on me. That's totally on me. That's not on them, because if you let guys just do what they want, that's what they're going to do.
"They've got to do what we want them to do, and only because the other four guys on the court with them need to know what going on too. When people just break off and do their own thing, that's when you give up a transition basket on defense like we did at the end of the game."
***Senior guard Brandon Richardson picked up his fourth foul of the game early in the second half and played just 16 minutes in the loss. He was held scoreless on 0-of-3 shooting from the field.
***Nebraska's 53 points on the night were a season low. Coming into the game, the Huskers had scored at least 64 points in each of their first five games.
***Junior forward Brandon Ubel scored just four points, but had a career-high five assists and tied his season high with two blocks.
***Nebraska's eight turnovers were a season low, and its 23 3-point attempts were a season-high.