KANSAS CITY - On several occasions, Nebraska came one basket away from completing a miraculous comeback over No. 24 Texas A&M and stealing a second Big 12 Tournament win in as many days.
Unfortunately, the Huskers couldn't find a way to get over the hump and take the lead, and just like that, their season likely came to an end in a 70-64 loss to the Aggies.
After falling behind by as many as 16 points in the second half, Nebraska (15-18 overall) clawed its way back and cut the deficit to as few as one point. However, despite coming within one possession of either tying or taking the lead five times in the final 10 minutes, the Huskers were unable to hit the big shot when it counted.
"They hit some big shots," senior guard Ryan Anderson said. "We were down three, they'd score. We're down one, then they hit a 3. They made plays, man. Just like we made plays yesterday against Missouri, they made plays today. They made shots. They made stops on defense. They got rebounds. Hats off to those guys. I just wish we could have made some plays."
After leading by nine at halftime, Texas A&M (23-8) scored seven unanswered points to open the second half and took its largest lead of the day at 44-28.
Though it would have been somewhat understandable for a team that won just two Big 12 games all year coming into the tournament to simply throw in the towel, Nebraska continued to fight.
As a result, the Huskers quickly responded with an 11-0 run that brought them back to within two at 49-47 on a 3-pointer by Anderson with 9:05 remaining in the game. The rally was also sparked when NU switched primarily to a 2-3 zone defense, which forced A&M to take more perimeter shots and kept the ball out of the paint.
After each time Nebraska finally pulled back to within one possession, though, the Aggies were able to do the one thing NU couldn't seem to do, which proved to be the ultimate difference in the game.
They simply made the big shots when they had to.
Over the next six minutes, Nebraska came within three points or less four more times, but whenever it looked like it would finally claim its first lead, the Aggies would knock down a clutch shot to stay in control.
The final dagger came after senior guard Sek Henry drained a 3 to cut the deficit to 62-58 with 1:39 to go. Desperately needing to make a stop, the Huskers could only watch as A&M's Bryan Davis converted a basket and free throw to bump the Aggies' lead up to seven with 1:01 left.
"I'm just shocked that it's all over," Henry said. "I felt that we were going to win this game, especially in the second half with the way it all just flipped over on our side. I really thought that we were going to finish strong towards the end and get the victory, but they made some big shots, and they came out with the victory."
Nebraska was sluggish to open the game to say the least, as it let A&M jump out to an 8-0 lead that essentially set the tone for the entire first half. During the four-minute stretch, the Huskers shot 0-for-3 of the field, committed two turnovers and four fouls.
NU finally did get going, however, and eventually cut the deficit to as few as five with a little less than a minute left in the half. One of the biggest contributors to the Huskers' offensive success was the return of freshman forward Christian Standhardinger, who sat out all of Wednesday's win over Missouri and didn't finally check in on Thursday until the 11:35 mark.
In his limited playing time, though, Standhardinger scored seven points in just six minutes on the floor, including five straight points to pull Nebraska to within five at 33-28 with 57.1 seconds left in the half.
For whatever reason, though, he didn't play at all the entire second half.
That rally came to a quick end, however, as the Aggies bumped their lead back up to nine in the final minute, capped off by a 3-pointer by senior guard Donald Sloan with 7.0 seconds left to make the score 37-28 going into halftime.
"I thought the first half was not good," head coach Doc Sadler said. "I thought the first half we were not the same team we were yesterday nor were we the same team we were in the second half. I can't answer why that is."
Anderson scored a team-high 16 points and Henry added 13 in their final game as Huskers, while redshirt freshman center Jorge Brian Diaz finished with 14 points. Sloan scored a game-high 23 points and forward Khris Middleton had 17 for the Aggies, who moved on to play No. 1-seed Kansas on Friday in the tournament semifinals.
Considering the way Nebraska played the past two days against two straight NCAA Tournament teams, it was at least able to save a small amount of face after a disastrous and embarrassing regular season.
It may only be a small consolation, but at least the Huskers gave glimpse of what Sadler has been saying about his team all season long.
"This team has given me complete effort, but you're not ever happy losing basketball games," Sadler said. "That's what I'm supposed to do, is win. But am I happy with our team's effort? No question… I think we're closer than what a lot of people may think just because the thing that's difficult to have is a character team, especially today.
"There's not too many teams that would've been 2-14 that would've given the effort that they continued to give every day. That tells me that there's some character there. The talent's a little bit better, but we've still got to get that one dude. If that one dude we get is that one guy that make a difference, then this could be a good start, because we're fairly young."