No one, not even head coach Tim Miles, knew how Nebraska would respond to its first loss of the season to Kent State on Saturday night. Turns out, the Huskers would respond with their most dominating performance yet.
In its first road game of the season as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, NU exploded in the second half and completely ran away from Wake Forest in what finally ended in a 79-63 victory.
After leading by four at halftime, senior guard Ray Gallegos helped the Huskers (5-1) break out with a 24-5 run and lead by as many as 24 points. Gallegos, who scored just three points in the first half, caught fire and scored 17 of Nebraska's first 22 points in the second half to finish with a career-high 20 on 8-of-14 shooting.
Senior center Andre Almeida also had a career night, posting career-highs with 20 points and 12 rebounds for his first career double-double along with three blocks to lead a dominating performance by NU in the low post. Almeida shot 9-of-10 from the field, while Nebraska shot 51 percent as a team.
"We showed the tape (of the Kent State game) to the kids, and they just I think felt bad about the way they played against Kent State and wanted to come out and redeem themselves, and I think they did," Miles said. "They truly did. They played a very good game, a complete game."
Both teams started the game out slow, but Nebraska was able to take advantage of a dismal shooting start by Wake Forest to jump out to an early 11-4 lead. The Demon Deacons, who earlier this season trailed Iona 41-5 to open the game, shot just 3-of-13 from the field out of the gates.
However, with the help of some hot shooting from guard Chase Fischer off the bench, Wake Forest was able to rally back with a 13-2 run of its own and take the lead 19-16 with just over nine minutes to go in the half. Fischer scored eight points during the run, including two 3-pointers, but only finished with nine on the night.
The scoring spurt wouldn't last much longer for the Deacons, though, as they managed to put just two points on the board in the final 7:26 of the half to allow NU to take a 28-24 lead into halftime.
Wake Forest was just 9-of-28 from the field and 3-of-11 from beyond the arc in the half, while the Huskers controlled the paint with seven points from senior forward Brandon Ubel and six from Almeida, who added five rebounds and two blocks after essentially being benched in the second half against Kent State.
"I thought (Almeida) was as aggressive as I've seen him," Miles said. "I thought he did a really nice job getting to the rim. That's hard. I thought Andre had a great night. He played as well as I've seen him play."
After a 3-pointer by Gallegos that gave Nebraska its largest lead to that point at nine with just under 16 minutes to play, the Huskers took off with a 22-3 run to go up a commanding 64-40 with less than eight minutes left.
The Huskers scored on 17 of the first 21 possessions in the second half, and on the other end held Wake Forest to just one field goal for a full 10-minute stretch.
"(It was) just the encouragement of my teammates, really," Gallegos said of his breakout second half. "They just told me to keep shooting and keep being aggressive, and so that's what I came out and tried to do."
A basket by Almeida gave Nebraska a 66-42 lead with 5:10 remaining, but Wake Forest put together one last final push to cut the lead down to 13 with a 15-4 run. That would be far too little, far too late for the Demon Deacons, though, as the Huskers would hold off the rally and leave with a 16-point victory.
Senior guard Dylan Talley had 14 points and eight rebounds, while Ubel added nine points and freshman point guard Benny Parker followed up with eight points, four assists, four steals and just one turnover.
Guard Codi Miller-McIntyre led Wake Forest with 11 points, but the real story was how the Huskers held seniors C.J. Harris and Travis McKie to just 10 total points on a combined 3-of-16 shooting. Coming into the game, Harris and McKie were averaging over 30 points per game between them.
"I think our guys decided they were going to sit and guard," Miles said. "Gallegos did a really good job on C.J., and a lot of different guys had McKie, but I thought we doubled him every time and that kind of got him off the attack. I regretted not doing that the last two home games against Kent and Tulane - more doubles when they post up those wings - because I didn't want to give up rotation and give up 3s. So we said 'Forget about it. Let's just do it.' And we did it."
Nebraska won't return to action again until next Monday, Dec. 3, when it plays host to Southern Cal, with tip-off set for 7 p.m. CT.
"It gives our guys a great deal of confidence in terms of they know they can do it," Miles said. "The only way to be confident is to earn confidence and play well and succeed, and they did that tonight. But the ball's going to go up in the air next Monday, and we're going to have to do it all over again against a Southern Cal team, and then it's Creighton on Thursday. I'm proud of them tonight. I'm looking forward to getting better in film tomorrow."
Around the rim
***The 16-point win was Nebraska's largest road victory since defeating Minnesota 77-60 on Dec. 29, 2003.
***Gallegos' previous career high point total was 16 earlier this season against Southern, which he of course surpassed in the second half alone on Tuesday night.
***Wake Forest came into the game averaging over 30 free throw attempts per game. The Demon Deacons shot just 12-of-18 from the line against Nebraska, including just five attempts in the first half.
"Systematically they're great on the offensive glass, and they're great at getting fouled, which meant they're an aggressive team," Miles said. "I thought we did a good job at just the smallest things - getting back, getting a set defense, guarding the ball, not letting the screen-and-roll through, taking away their actions and not letting the screen-and-roll hurt us. It seems like it's simple, but it's not that simple. When you do all those fundamental things, you can be OK."
***Miles said his coaching strategy during Gallegos' second-half scoring outburst was just to keep quiet and stay out of the way.
"He was really hot," Miles said. "I just didn't say a word."
***Miles said he was very impressed with the number of Husker fans who showed up to Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday night, estimating there were roughly 150 fans in red in the stands.
"We have great fans," Miles said. "You look out and there was 150 fans here tonight from all over the place in the middle-of-nowhere North Carolina. I don't mean that in a bad way, but the Husker fans come out and support you."