College basketball isn’t a common New Years Eve choice for many, but on this cold night in Iowa City, you might have been convinced otherwise. The Huskers were the opponent as Big Ten play got underway. Not many expected the Huskers to put up much of a fight vs. the #22 Hawkeyes. The Huskers haven’t really handled the road well so far this season going 1-4 away from Pinnacle Bank Arena and 0-2 in true road games. The Huskers, however, entered with the mind to spoil the party. The Huskers jumped out to an early 7-6 lead, and after a 7-0 run by Iowa, the Huskers responded with a 13-1 run of their own to take a 20-14 lead. NU got sloppy again, however and were not able to extend their lead. An all too familiar thing happened for Husker fans as the Huskers scored just one free throw in the final 6:54 of the half and watched the Hawkeyes take advantage, finishing the half on a 16-1 run to go into the break up 30-23.
Again, after the break the Huskers came out the aggressor, but it didn’t last long. Iowa ratcheted up the intensity, taking advantage of the Husker inexperience building the lead as big as 20 points but had to hold off a late NU charge, cutting the deficit to five points before the Hawkeyes righted the ship, grabbing a 67-57 win.
NU got another solid game from Terran Petteway, which is becoming as solid as there is in the Big Ten as he put up his first career double-double scoring 20 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. What’s more puzzling, however, is the no-show from the Huskers lone senior and best outside threat, Ray Gallegos. The guard, who hit six threes, scoring 18 points on Saturday vs. Cincinnati did not score, had zero attempts from field and only had one free throw attempt which did not come until the 7:21 mark in the second half. The Huskers can’t afford that sort of a performance from him if they’re going to be competitive the rest of the way.
There were some bright spots for the Huskers tonight. A season-long problem wasn’t this time as the Huskers won the battle of the boards for much of the game despite one of their best rebounders on the bench for much of the game with foul trouble in Leslee Smith. Along with that, the Huskers controlled the vaunted Hawkeye offense who likes to get out and run as much as possible. In the end, however, Iowa was too much for the Huskers who eventually did get loose and was able to get some points in transition. The Hawkeye depth and pressure caused the young Huskers all sorts of issues. Deverell Biggs, who didn’t make the trip to Cincinnati, also was a bright spot for the Huskers. Despite a couple of sketchy decisions on his shot selection, was able to get to the lane almost at will and was pesky guarding the Hawkey perimeter ball handlers.
Just when it looked like the Huskers were about to get blown out of the building, the Huskers mounted a challenge. Behind the tenaciousness of Biggs defense, the Huskers used a 20-5 run to cut the Iowa lead to 5, but a turnover by Biggs trying to hit a wide open Shields for 3 to cut the lead down to 3 with a little over a minute to play. For all intents and purposes, that was the end of the Huskers charge. The Hawks built their lead back to ten and hit their free throws the rest of the way.
The Huskers dropped their conference opener for the third consecutive season and it doesn’t get much easier from here. The Huskers next head to Columbus to take on Ohio State Saturday morning.