Just when you might have thought Nebraska's season was dead in the water, Dylan Talley swishes an improbable 3-pointer in the final seconds to give the Huskers one more breath.
After a dismal first-half performance that saw them trail by as many as 19 points, the Huskers came back and out-scored Iowa by 20 in the second half to pull off arguably their best win of the Big Ten Conference season on Saturday afternoon, 64-60.
It was far from a season-changing victory for NU, which improved to 13-14 overall and 4-10 in league play, but it if nothing else it gave proof that first-year head coach Tim Miles's squad wasn't ready to give up without a fight.
The 19-point rally was just one point shy of tying the largest comeback in school history.
"On a scale of 1-10, that was probably a 15," freshman Shavon Shields said. "It was probably one of the funnest games I've ever played in. Just the way we came out in the second half and the way the crowd got into it and everything, it was a great atmosphere."
Nebraska took the first lead of the day on a nice drive and lay-up by junior guard Ray Gallegos to open the game, but that would be one of only a handful of positives for the Huskers in the first half.
Trailing just 12-11 after five straight points by Gallegos midway through the half, Iowa's offense exploded with a 12-2 run aided by four straight NU turnovers to go up 26-13. The lead only continued to grow through the end of the half, but the Huskers looked to be getting things back on track after they cut it to 10 on a basket by Talley and 3 by Gallegos.
But after getting a steal on Iowa's next possession, Gallegos was stuffed at the rim on a two-on-one fast break, and the Hawkeyes followed that up with three unanswered 3-pointers to go up by as much as 19 with just under a minute left. Shields converted an And-1 with 18 seconds to go, but there was little to feel good about going into halftime down 41-25.
After struggling to hit anything the past two games, Gallegos scored 10 of his 11 points to lead the Huskers in the first half, but both Aaron White and Roy Devyn Marble equaled that total. The Hawkeyes shot 43.8 percent from the field and were a perfect 9-of-9 from the free-throw line, while NU was just 1-of-5 from the charity stripe.
"It looked to me in the first half like Iowa was playing with a purpose," Miles said. "You could see this discernable, 'We're committed to coming in here and kicking your butt.' And I thought our guys showed up at one in the afternoon because it seemed like a good time to have a game. We just looked discombobulated. I just kept thinking, 'I'm sure we went through all of this, right?' But it didn't appear as though we did."
Rather than let the poor first half continue the rest of the day, though, Nebraska was able to keep it interesting with a 12-4 run to open the second half and cut the deficit to 45-37 with just over 15 minutes still left in the game. The Huskers continued to chip away over the next 10 minutes, and eventually cut it down to 53-50 with a 10-2 run capped off by a pair of free throws by Shields.
"We came right out of the half really well," Shields said. "At halftime we said what we needed to do in order to win this game or come back, and we did it."
Nebraska finally got over the hump and took its first lead since the first minute of the game on a tough jumper by Shields to make it 58-57 with 2:26 to play. Senior forward Brandon Ubel followed up with a jump hook to push the lead to three on NU's next possession, but White answered coming out of timeout with a clutch 3-pointer from the top of the key to tie it up at 60-60 with 1:26 remaining.
That score held until the final seconds, and Nebraska ended up burning it's final timeout with 19.9 seconds to play and 11 seconds left on the shot clock. The play ended up with the ball in Talley's hands, and just before the shot clock hit zero, the senior guard drained a deep, contested 3 to give the Huskers back the lead.
"It wasn't that difficult of a shot, but it might not have been the best shot," Talley said. "I get yelled at sometimes in practice for crossover 3-point shots, but the clock was winding down and I had to do it. I was just fortunate it went in… You just get an adrenaline rush and the crowd is going crazy, and you just start yelling to. I don't know what I was yelling. You just feel so happy. I have been shooting a lot the last few days, and I am happy it paid off."
Gesell missed a 3-pointer that bounced up off the shot clock above the backboard, and Gallegos was fouled on the inbounds pass with 2.8 remaining. Gallegos made one of his two free throws to increase the lead to four, and a half-court heave by Marble bounced off the rim to seal the victory.
The Huskers used the same starting five the entire second half and were still able to shoot 62.5 percent from the field after the break and hold Iowa to just 19 points after scoring 41 in the first half.
Talley ended up with a game-high 18 points after going just 1-of-7 from the field in the first half. Shields was right behind him with 17, with 12 of those coming after halftime, and Ubel added 12 points and a team-high eight rebounds. Marble led Iowa with 18 points and White finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds.
Saturday's win was only a small first step in Nebraska getting to its goal of qualifying for post-season play, but the fact remains that it was a much-needed emotional boost for a team that hasn't had a lot to celebrate since the start of Big Ten play.
The Huskers won't have much time to bask in the win with their next game at Wisconsin coming up on Tuesday, but for the moment, they could at least enjoy being on the right side of the scoreboard again for a few hours.
"I think it's too early for that," Miles said when asked if this was a turning point game for the program. "I don't thin we've earned that right to be that far along in the process to say this is a turning point. But it's a good win."
Around the rim
***The 19-point comeback stands as the third largest in school history behind 20-point rallies over Kansas State (1996-97) and then USC (2010-11).
***Miles said he had a play drawn up for Talley during NU's final timeout, and even though Talley ended up draining the go-ahead 3, it was more of an improvisation on his part than the actual play.
"Well we didn't run it," Miles said of the final play. "First of all, they did a good job of staying with screens and kind of taking you out of your first option. Sometimes when we get taken out of those things, we'll shut down. Dylan made a play, and I'm thankful that he did."
***While it may have seemed like an awfully difficult shot, Talley said he never questioned that it was going in. He has now scored 16 points or more in NU's last four games.
"Oh yeah, I think every shot I take is going in," Talley said. "I shoot with confidence, and it went in so I was happy."
***Here was Miles' response when asked why he didn't play a single sub in the second half:
"Did you see the first half? I made a conscious effort that we were going to play those five. I just felt like we gave everybody a chance in the first half, and we couldn't get them under control. So we thought those were our five most solid, dependable guys, and that's who we played."
***With only two days before the Huskers return to action at Wisconsin on Tuesday night, Miles said he was unsure what his team's schedule would look like at this point. Miles said NU didn't take a day off last week because of the uncertain schedule and the eventual postponed game, and he would have to meet with his staff to decide whether to give his players Sunday off or start preparing for the Badgers.
***Nebraska picked up its 13th win of the season, topping its 2011-12 total of 12. In addition, NU is now 10-7 at the Devaney Center this year, guaranteeing a winning home record.