Aside from a few dry spells, Nebraska put together arguably its best offensive performance of the season in an 83-40 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Monday night.
Junior forward Christian Standhardinger came off the bench and recorded his first career double-double with a game-high 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting to go along with a game-high 11 rebounds, as the Huskers (2-0) used a 33-9 run in the second half to break away from the Golden Lions (0-2) for good.
As a team, Nebraska shot 29-of-46 (63 percent) from the field, marking the first time it's shot better than 60 percent on the year and its best shooting performance since Nov. 18, 2006 against Creighton (68 percent).
"I thought we really came out with some good energy," head coach Doc Sadler said. "I thought the energy and the enthusiasm was much better tonight than it was against South Dakota, and that's something that we stressed and wanted to do."
Nebraska started off fairly hot offensively to open the game, as two 3-pointers by senior guard Lance Jeter and then seven straight points by junior guard Toney McCray sparked a 14-3 run to kick things off in the first half.
However, Nebraska's hot streak quickly went cold. After a put back by Standhardinger made it 16-6 with 12:14 to go in the first half, the Huskers scored just two points in a span of more than seven minutes before junior center Andre Almeida hit a jump hook to put NU back up 20-11 with 4:49 to go.
Standhardinger scored again to increase the lead back up to 26-13 with 3:17 left in the first half, but the Huskers ended the half on another scoring drought and managed just two free throws the rest of the way to go into halftime up 28-15.
Nebraska was definitely its own worst enemy in the first half, as it shot just 10-of-19 from the field and 5-of-10 from the free throw line while committing 12 turnovers.
"We can't turn the basketball over like that," Sadler said. "As good as we shot free throws the other night, we were just as bad tonight in the first half. We can't give away points. I thought our defensive transition got sloppy. We still have a lot of things to work on, but again I was very pleased with the enthusiasm and the bench enthusiasm for each other. I think that's going to be very important for this team."
The second went much better for the Huskers, as they once again got off to a hot start with an 8-2 run. This time, however, there were no significant scoring droughts to follow.
After bumping the lead up to 41-24 with a little more than 15 minutes to play, Standhardinger and the Huskers got red hot offensively. The Munich, Germany, native scored 16 of Nebraska's next 33 points, as NU outscored the Golden Lions 33-9 over the next nine minutes and took a dominant 72-31 advantage with 6:20 remaining.
"Sometimes one of your best offensive players needs to be that guy that can come in and give that lift, and that's what Christian can do," Sadler said. "Christian can score points in bunches, and one thing you know about Christian is he's always going to be high-energy. Christian is Christian. He's played that way ever since he's been here. It doesn't surprise me."
It was all garbage time after that, as a total of 12 Huskers played at least three minutes in the win.
Junior Caleb Walker scored 13 points and hauled in seven rebounds, while Jeter finished with 11 points and McCray added 10. Savalace Townsend led Arkansas-Pine Bluff with 10 points.
The road gets much more difficult from Nebraska the rest of the week, as it will leave Tuesday morning for the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, which the Huskers will open on Thursday against Vanderbilt at 12:30 p.m on ESPNU. On Friday, they'll take on the winner/loser of West Virginia/Davison at either 10:30 a.m., which will also be on ESPNU, or 1 p.m.
"This was a good test for us," Jeter said. "Arkansas-Pine Bluff was in the tournament last year, they lost to Duke in the first round, so it was definitely a good test for us. You always want to go into a big tournament with momentum, and I feel like we did that."
Around the rim
***Junior guard Kamyron Brown warmed up with the team before the game, but he watched the Huskers win from the student section with the rest of NU's inactive players.
Sadler said he decided not to play Brown prior to tip-off, but he wouldn't disclose why after the game. Whatever Brown's situation is, it could very well end up keeping him off Nebraska's travel roster when the Huskers head down to Puerto Rico.
"I made a decision right before the game not to play him, and I'm going to make a decision on whether or not he's going to go with us to Puerto Rico tomorrow," Sadler said. "It's 50/50 right now on what I'm going to do on that."
Asked to clarify why he chose to bench Brown, Sadler said he would have more answers by Tuesday.
"It's just a personnel matter with him that I'm going to have to look into," he said. "I'll know something in the morning at 8:30. I've got to talk to his parents and see what's going on. We'll see what's happening."
***Sadler also benched guard Eshaunte Jones on Monday for what appeared to be a lack of effort from Jones this week in practice.
"I just made a decision not to play him. It was strictly just a basketball matter," Sadler said. "I just didn't play him. I want him to understand how much we need him, but practice has got to be something that's - Ray (Gallegos) and Drake (Beranek) both practiced much harder, and I'm going to go with the guys that are going to practice. That's all that was, and to be honest with you, I didn't want to embarrass (Jones) by putting him in in the last four or five minutes."
***Though he didn't start, Standhardinger said he was more than happy being Nebraska's sparkplug off the bench as the Sixth Man.
"I think I did a very good job of helping the team when I came in in rebounding, and of course with scoring, that's one of my major strengths," Standhardinger said. "I always try to give the team everything I've got, if I come from the bench or play (in) the starting five. You've got to be there to help the team no matter what."
***After going off for 20 points in Friday's win over South Dakota, Almeida was held to just five points on Monday. In fact, he and center Jorge Brian Diaz combined for just seven points and six rebounds.