Just days after it looked like the season was on the brink, Nebraska came back with one of its best all-around performances of the year on the road Saturday night against TCU.
Behind a game-high 22 points by senior point guard Bo Spencer, the Huskers dominated the Horned Frogs for the entire second half and turned a 10-point first half deficit into a 69-57 win.
Trailing 37-27 with just 2.9 seconds remaining in the first half, Spencer hit a half-court shot at the buzzer to cut it to seven at halftime. From there, NU went on to out-score TCU 42-20 the rest of the game. It marked the Horned Frogs' first home loss of the season and improved the Huskers to 2-1 on the road this year.
"Bo made some huge shots down the stretch," head coach Doc Sadler said on his post-game radio show. "It's a great win for us. They've got a good basketball team and were playing with a heck of a lot of confidence."
Things started off pretty well for Nebraska, as it opened the game by taking a 14-9 lead on a 3-pointer by freshman David Rivers. It wouldn't take long for TCU to answer and swing the momentum back in its favor, though.
Sparked by nine points by Garlon Green, the Horned Frogs came right back with a 14-2 run of their own to take a 23-16 lead with a little more than seven minutes left in the first half.
The Huskers were able to cut the deficit to just one point at 26-25 on a pair of free throws by senior guard Caleb Walker with four minutes to go, but would go on to finish the half with one of the worst final minutes imaginable.
With the help of offensive rebounds and Nebraska turnovers, TCU scored eight unanswered points in the last minute of the half, taking its biggest lead yet on a steal and lay-up by J.R. Cadot with 2.8 seconds remaining.
Just when it seemed the first half would end in disaster for the Huskers, Spencer came up with one of the highlight plays of the season when he bobbled the long inbounds pass, regained possession and drained a 60-foot prayer at the buzzer to make it 37-30 at halftime.
"Yeah, it was a designed play," Sadler joked. "No, but obviously we had t do it by making a mistake. Because we had 16 seconds (on the previous possession) and we ended up taking a shot with 12 seconds. That's what gave them the opportunity to go down and get a basket. We've got to work on those things."
After scoring just six points in 37 minutes in Wednesday's win over Florida Gulf Coast, Spencer led NU with 11 points in the first half.
"I felt like at halftime we had not really played that well," Sadler said. "We had gotten ourselves in a position to give up 37 points in the first half. Our defense, on the road especially, you can't do that."
The Huskers carried over the momentum of Spencer's half-court 3 and jumped all over TCU to open the second half with an 11-0 run and reclaimed the lead on a basket by freshman Josiah Moore to make it 41-39.
Nebraska was able to hold onto the lead for the bulk of the second half, and went up by five on a 3-pointer by Walker that made it 57-52 with just over six minutes remaining. A few minutes later, Spencer came up huge once again.
With NU leading by three with roughly four minutes left, Spencer hit a falling-down jumper as the shot clock expired and then another tough long shot to give the Huskers their biggest lead to that point at 62-55 with three minutes to go.
Moments after hitting two big jump shots, Spencer kept the team on his shoulders and went on to hit four straight free throws to give the Huskers a 66-57 lead with 1:38 left to play, and that would be all they would need to hold on for a desperately needed victory.
"In the second half, you saw that we picked it up for the whole 20 minutes," Sadler said. "I thought it got (TCU) out of a little bit of rhythm, because if you let TCU come down and just run their offense, then they're going to out-execute you, and that's what they did in the first half."
Junior center Jorge Brian Diaz had nine points, five rebounds and three blocks for NU, while Walker ended with nine points and eight rebounds. Guard Hank Thorns led TCU with 18 points.
The Huskers won't return to action again until next Saturday when they play host to Alcorn State. With just two more games remaining on its regular season schedule, Nebraska's win over the Horned Frogs could be a crucial starting point to build some confidence heading into the start of Big Ten Conference play.
Around the rim
***Junior guard Dylan Talley played just eight minutes on Saturday and did not play at all in the second half. Sadler said Talley once again re-aggravated his injured thigh on the first play of Friday's practice, and it was clear during the shoot around before the game he would be limited at best against TCU.
"To be honest, Dylan did not have a good practice yesterday, did not have a good shoot around today, and I just didn't feel comfortable playing him," Sadler said. "He did say that could play, but I just went with other guys who had prepared pretty good."
***With Talley on the bench, Nebraska turned to a couple freshmen to help pick up the slack. Moore played a career-high nine minutes and Rivers played a career-high 13 off the bench, combining for seven points and two assists.
"As the season goes a long you've got to get some guys some more minutes," Sadler said. "Maybe it helped Bo a little bit to get it down to 34, because he had been playing 37, 38. Josiah and David did a nice job. We're going to get a chance now these next three games to maybe to get them some experience. It's just been hard to get it with the schedule that we have had. Now we get some home games, and hopefully this basketball team in the next 10 days will get a lot better."