In many ways, this was as good as college basketball gets. It was a back and forth game all night. It was the first Big Ten game in Pinnacle Bank Arena history and it was a classic. The Michigan Wolverines were in town. Sure, they were without their All-American point guard Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr from last year’s national runner-up team and preseason All-American Mitch McGeary. But this was still a team that has a lot of talent, many of whom were contributors on that deep run into March and early April. And these Huskers were hungry. Losers of three straight, Big Red didn’t back down. This one was a slugfest. Neither team ever led by more than six points.
Terran Petteway once again led the way for the Huskers with 16 points and the opportunity to win the game for the Huskers. Tim Miles put the ball in his hands with the game on the line. The Huskers ran a ball screen. Petteway turned the corner, threw up a semi-wild layup and it bounced off the rim. The Huskers got not one, but two opportunities to tip in the missed layup but neither fell and the opportunity for a signature win rolled away with it.
The dichotomy of the two sides was striking. The Huskers screaming in fits of frustration and anger after letting the opportunity slip away. Some falling to the floor, face in their hands, forlorn. On the other bench, the Wolverines, had left it behind, screaming in ecstasy, seeing the missed layup and the clock striking zero, forming a bouncing mob around mid court.
The Huskers had been waiting for a while to see a big game from Ray Gallegos on their home floor. They got it today. Ray Galleogs sparked the Huskers in the first half with three consecutive three’s to help lead the Huskers back into what was beginning to look like a game the Wolverines would run away with. Deverell Biggs also caused the Wolverines fits, getting into the lane all night getting looks at the rim and finishing putting up 14 points and a team high five rebounds.
But, in the end, the final margin was one point. One single point. You can point to any numbers of things that if they went a little bit differently, the game might have as well. The Huskers rebounded well tonight and in fact again out rebounded a conference opponent, but they gave up four offensive rebounds to the Wolverines, they converted three of those into points. The Huskers got outscored 21-7 in points off of turnovers. They only missed one free throw, but it was the last one of the game. It would have given the Huskers a two point lead and Derrick Walton Jr’s jumper at the end of the game ties it, not give Michigan the lead. What if the 50/50 block/charge call goes Nebraska’s way instead of Michigan’s? What if the loose ball with a minute and a half left is picked up by any number of Husker guards closing in on it but instead went the other way for a Glenn Robinson III dunk? What if the Wolverines go 6-9 from the free throw line instead of 3-9? What if the Huskers don’t give the Wolverines three straight layups in the middle of the second half? Pick any one of those things or perhaps a number of other things to go the other way and you’ve got a very different narrative. Instead, the Huskers continue to search for their first conference win. To do it, they’ll next get an opportunity Sunday morning as the head West Lafayette, Indiana to face the Purdue Boilermakers. Maybe this time, they’ll be the ones celebrating on their opponents home floor.