There were few teams in the entire country more desperate for a win than Nebraska, and the Huskers got exactly what they needed the most on Thursday night.
Coming off its worst home loss on record just six days earlier against Ohio State, Nebraska looked like a completely different team against the Hawkeyes, especially on the offensive end, and pulled out a 79-73 win in Iowa City, Iowa.
Senior guard Brandon Richardson led the way with the best night of his career, scoring a game-high 25 points on 9-of-10 shooting, including an eye-popping 6-of-7 from 3-point range. As a team, NU shot 51.9 percent from the field after hitting just 29 percent against the Buckeyes.
Despite trailing by as many as 11 points in the first half, the Huskers (11-9 overall, 3-6 in Big Ten play) were able to fight back and pick up head coach Doc Sadler's 100th win at Nebraska.
"Obviously anytime you go on the road, it's a good feeling to know that you played well enough to win," Sadler said during his post-game radio interview on the Husker Sports Network. "I'm not sure that we played our best ball game tonight, but it feels so much better when maybe you don't and you still win. Great win for our players. Great, great win for our players, and I can't say enough about them."
After trailing for the majority of the first half, NU reclaimed the lead for the first time in more than 11 minutes on a bucket by junior guard Dylan Talley that made it 63-61 with 5:06 left in the game.
Talley's basket ended up being part of a 12-2 run by the Huskers, and even though Iowa made some big shots down the stretch to keep it within reach, Nebraska would not trail the rest of the night.
The intensity reached its peak in the final minute, as a pair of free throws by Iowa's Roy Devyn Marble cut NU's lead to 75-73 with just 1:07 remaining.
Talley missed a 3 with 40 seconds left on Nebraska's next possession, but Richardson somehow came up with the offensive rebound and was fouled with 28.3 left to play. Senior guard Toney McCray was fouled immediately on the ensuing inbounds pass, and he stepped to the line and hit both free throws to extend the lead to four with 27.3 to go.
Marble missed a short runner on Iowa's next time down court, but the Hawkeyes' Eric May pulled in the rebound and was sent to the line for a one-and-one. May missed the front end, but the Hawkeyes again came up with the ball and called a timeout with 12.3 remaining.
Iowa's Josh Oglesby heaved up a 3 that literally went in and then out, and senior guard Bo Spencer grabbed the rebound, was fouled and added two more free throws to seal the victory for the Huskers.
The game started as a back-and-forth affair through the first 10 minutes, as both teams traded baskets until Zach McCabe made a basket to put Iowa up 21-19 with 10:12 to go in the first half.
That ended up sparking a 12-1 run by the Hawkeyes that gave them their biggest lead of the half at 31-20 after a long jumper from guard Bryce Cartwright with 6:22 left.
While the run could've easily put the Huskers down for the count, especially considering the way their last game ended, they weren't ready to go without a fight.
Nebraska responded with an 11-2 run of its own and eventually rallied back to within two points on a 3-pointer by Richardson that made it 33-31 with just over two minutes left in the half.
The Huskers were unable to add anymore points to the scoreboard the rest of the way, however, as the Hawkeyes closed the half with five unanswered points to take a 38-31 lead into halftime.
McCabe was the difference maker in the first half, scoring 13 of his team-high 20 points on 6-of-8 shooting in the first 20 minutes.
"In the first half, I'm not for sure a lot of things went our way," Sadler said. "But with about three, four, five minutes before half, it looked like we were struggling. Our defense did pick up and we got some easy baskets."
Along with his 25 points, Richardson had one of his most complete games of his career, adding six rebounds, five assists, two steals and just one turnover. His breakout performance was even more surprising in that he came into the night averaging just 6.5 points per game.
"For five years now I've been trying to get him to shoot the basketball," Sadler said. "As I've said so many times, he's the one player in college basketball that - I promise you, there's not another coach who has to beg him to shoot like I do, to the point that a lot of people think that I've told Brandon not to shoot the ball. The fact of the matter is, that's all I've been talking to him about for four years. 'Brandon, you're being too selfish. You've got to shoot the shots that are open.' Tonight he did do that."
Spencer was the only other Husker to score in double figures with 16 points, as he and Richardson accounted for 41 of NU's 79 points.
There had been talk after the Ohio State loss that Nebraska was about to start its second season, so to speak, with Thursday night's trip to take on Iowa.
If the way they played against the Hawkeyes is any indication of what's to come, the final 10 regular season games could get interesting for the Huskers.
Around the rim
***Asked about how it felt to reach win No. 100 at Nebraska, Sadler apparently hadn't been informed he was close to reaching the milestone.
"I didn't know," he said. "Yeah, it's better than 99."
***Sadler said Nebraska switched to a zone defense late in the first half, a move that slowed down Iowa's offense considerably the rest of the game. He credited assistant coach Wes Flanigan for convincing him to make the in-game adjustment.
"I wish I could sit here and say that we spent a lot of time working on zone defense, but we haven't," Sadler said. "I thought for us to have any chance, we were going to have to do that, and to be quite honest with you, all the credit needs to go to Coach Flanigan.
"We couldn't stop dribble penetration from all five positions. The first half we gave up 20 lane touches. You can't continue to give up the lane and have a chance, and so that's what was happening to us. You know they've got a couple guys who can shoot the basketball, but the fact of the matter is you'll give up some perimeter shots. It was difficult for some of our guys to defend their guys off the dribble."
***Despite the win, Sadler said he wasn't very pleased with the way the Huskers played defensively.
"I'm so happy we won, but when we look back at this game defensively, we're not going to be very happy with the way we played," Sadler said. "We were very fortunate to go on the road and score 79 points. You just don't do that. If we would've played defense like we normally play defense, then I would be much more happy. Saying all those thing, believe me, anytime you can win a ball game, you've got to be happy."
** *Tonight's meeting is the first between the schools since the 1976-77 season and first in Iowa City since 1975. It was also Nebraska's second-ever win in Iowa City and second in 11 tries all time. The Huskers' only other win in Iowa City was a 41-34 win in 1941.
*** Richardson's previous scoring high had been 20 at Texas Tech last season His six 3-pointers were also a career high and the most by a Husker this season (previous best was four on five previous occasions).
***Richardson reached double figures for the sixth time this season, and has now scored in double figures in three of the Huskers' four Big Ten road games this season.
***Nebraska is now 3-0 in Big Ten play when scoring at least 65 points
***Nebraska trailed by 11 points in the first half, and now has three wins this season when trailing in double figures (also at TCU and vs. Indiana)
***The Huskers' 31 points in the first half is its second-highest first half total on the road this season (37 at Creighton) .