For the first time in this young season, the Huskers turned in a solid performance in most every phase of the game. Since this was the first time I actually got to see them play rather than just listen, I finally got to get a good look at everything. And while there's still a lot of rough edges, there was a lot to like with tonight's performance.
Do you want to know why Doc Sadler has endeared himself to Husker fans so quickly? Tonight's game really shows why. I can't say that I ever saw a Nebraska player stop playing on any play. I watched Velander throwing himself in front of people and taking charges, Steve Harley work for 30 seconds to finally get an opening, and then steal the ball on the ensuing possession and drive for a score, and Brandon Richardson slide completely under the Husker bench chasing a loose ball. The last time most Husker fans saw our previous coach, he was leaned up against the scorer's table texting while Kansas was blowing us out in the Big XII tournament. That will never happen (the disinterest) under Doc.
And what can I say about Sek Henry? He was a last minute addition to the fall 2006 recruiting class, and he certainly looked like a project his freshman year. Last year, he stepped up big when Cookie Miller got hurt, and this year...he's elevated to a new level. He had 19 points tonight, but could have had more if he hadn't been in foul trouble. He shot an unconscious 87.5% from the floor, his only miss came on one of his 3 3-point attempts. And he tossed in 4 assists, too, and didn't turn the ball over. If he continues to progress as he is, he could end up one of the better players in the entire Big XII.
Statistically, this was one of the better games for the Huskers in the last few years:
- 59.1% shooting for the game, 65% in the second half
- 14 of 16 free throw shooting, including a perfect 6-for-6 in the second half
- 6 turnovers for the game (Joe McCray used to get that many by himself)
- Opportunism -- 19 points off 13 SLU turnovers
- Use of the deep bench -- eight player registered at least 18 minutes, all of whom chipped in some points
- Held SLU to 41.7% shooting (oddly, on 10-24 shooting in each half)
All in all, this was the first truly strong performance this season, and it comes just in time -- the Huskers 2 biggest nonconference games are over the next 12 days. If they can turn in performances like this against Creighton and Arizona State, there may be hope in Huskerland this holiday season.
Offense: A+. SLU had held all their opponents below 50 this season, and the Huskers got 71, and did it without an obscene amount of free throw attempts. NU shot almost 60% for the game, and were extremely efficient on offense, which is exactly what they need to do to succeed. For you tempo-free buffs, NU had an offensive efficiency of 127.81 and an effective field goal percentage of 64.8% - the fourth most efficient offensive game under Doc Sadler (behind only 2006-07 beatdowns of Miami, Savannah State, and Oklahoma State).
Defense: A. Okay, so the Huskers only forced 13 turnovers (against a fairly good ball-handling team) and only held SLU to 41% shooting. While those aren't necessarily the greatest numbers for the Husker D this season, it's extremely good considering the competition. Especially telling was that SLU never seemed to get in any sort of a grove on offense, and most of their shots were long shots, late in the shot clock -- exactly what Doc wants out of his defense.
Rebounding: C-. This is the biggest weakness of tonight's performance, and it was the 12 offensive rebounds that SLU managed to pick up. The Billikens missed 28 shots, but got the ball back on more than 40% of those misses. Against better teams, like Big XII opponents, that will come back to bite you.
Ball Handling: A++. Six turnovers for the game? Bravo! None by your starting point guard? Bravo! Only 2 opposing steals? Magnifico!
Coaching/Bench: A. Doc continues to press every advantage he has, and the bench continues to chip in good minutes that also are productive. Doc had an answer for everything Rick Majerus had to throw out for SLU, and it's great when you can get the better of a Hall of Famer like Majerus.
Overall: A. A solid performance where it counted. Offensively, the Huskers finally found their rhythm -- against the best D they've played all year.
Player of the Game: Sek Henry. See above.
Next: Creighton in the Nebraska Classic. Devaney Center. 7 PM. On FSN. The MVC-favorite Jays are coming off a tough loss at Arkansas-Little Rock tonight, 71-69. This isn't the biggest game of the year, but it still is big.