If you've watched much of Nebraska (13-14, 4-10) basketball over the past several years, you know how these games go. The Huskers will start slow, find themselves with a large deficit, play hard make a run and get close (perhaps even take the lead!) only for the other team to hit a big shot, quiet the crowd and end up still winning by eight points. That's the typical script for the Husker Hoopsters. Today, however, was not typical.
While the result may not have been typical, the first half could not have gone much worse for the Huskers. The Huskers could not do much right, or, perhaps more accurately, the Hawkeyes (17-10, 6-8) did a lot of things right. The Hawkeyes entered the game clinging to a slim hope that they could still work their way into NCAA tournament consideration. To do so, Iowa would have to take advantage of a late season schedule filled with very winnable games, the first of which was vs. the Huskers this afternoon.
The Hawkeyes started the game like they knew exactly what this game meant. They controlled the tempo of the game, confused the Huskers with a nice mixture of defenses and hit big shot after big shot. Going into the break, the Hawkeyes and their host of fans that found their way into the Bob Devaney Sports Center had to be feeling confident with their 16 point halftime lead, only a three point play from Shavon Shields short of their biggest lead of the half at 19.
Husker fans were not happy. They've seen their squad run out of its own gym too many times over the past decade and more than once with the opposing fans ringing the top of the arena and their cheers ringing in their ears. That's the way this game was trending, yet again. There were no signs that NU would come up with the energy mount the comeback in the second half.
When the second half did begin, the Huskers energy level was noticeably higher. Dylan Talley and Shields once again had big second halves. Talley notched 17 of his game high 18 in the second. Shields poured in 17 himself. In fact, the Huskers played the same five players the entire second half, a conscious decision by Coach Miles. The Huskers defense was better, their rebounding was better, their decision making was better and it was causing Iowa trouble. The Husker fans started to become a factor in the game, the Iowa fans were growing quiet.
The usual script for the Huskers would have seen them take their first lead on Ubel's jumper at 60-57 only to have Iowa come down the court and have Iowa hit a big time three to take tie the game right back and find a way to take the game back for the win. Well, Iowa did come right down the court and hit that big three. Tying the game up at 60. This time, however, it was the Huskers who made the big plays in the final minute to take the game.
The game was decided on two possessions in the last minute. The first came with Iowa having a chance to retake the lead. The Hawkeyes were working hard to get junior guard Roy Devyn Marble in position to take the shot and give Iowa the lead they'd held nearly the entire game. They were running him off several screens before finding him near the free throw circle. Talley was on his hip the whole time, followed him down the late where Ubel met him in the lane. Marble was called for the offensive foul.
That set up the climactic moment of the game. The Huskers took possession of the ball with :45 left. A timeout with :20 left allowed the Huskers to draw up the play to try and get the go-ahead shot. Out of the timeout, it may not have been what Miles drew up, but Talley took the ball, guarded by Nebraska native Mike Gesell, worked his way to the top of the three point arc and hit a 24 ft. three pointer, sending the Husker faithful into a frenzy. Iowa was unable to score from there and the Huskers tacked one more free throw to notch the final of 64-60.
With only one more game remaining for the Huskers to play at the Devaney Center, this one could have been a better environment for the home team as they close out the final chapter of Husker men's basketball in that building. The Huskers head out for two games on the road this week before coming back home for the final home game at the Bob vs. Minnesota. Hopefully, for Husker fans, they'll be able to close down the building with a party as good as the one they just witnessed.