The least surprised people in the building were the ones sitting on the visitors bench. There was no doubt in their eyes. No fear of their surroundings or the "Indiana" on the white jerseys. There was no backing down from the opportunity in front of them. They looked like the team that had been there before. The team rich with tradition who's birthright it is to play in the big dance every year. They were the team in control from start to finish. They were on a mission: Dance.
The Huskers have flipped all sorts of scripts this year. They've beaten their first top 10 team on the road since 1997. They've got their longest winning streak in conference play since 1999. They've swept two conference opponents in the same season for the first time since, again, 1999. Oh, you know what else happened last in 1999? 10 conference wins. Also the last time time they finished fifth or better in the conference, which they clinched tonight. Actually, right now, they sit in fourth place in the league. If Michigan State defeats Iowa tomorrow night, they'll be in sole possession of it. That's good enough for a bye in the Big Ten Tournament. Not too bad for the team picked to finish in last place, as you may have heard.
Walter Pitchford made sure the Huskers would get off to a fast start, scoring the first nine points of the game for NU, quieting a senior night crowd in Bloomington desperately wanting to get involved in the game. The Huskers also rode an air tight defensive effort, holding the Hoosiers to under 38%, the eight straight opponent they've bottled up. It's no coincidence they've gone 7-1 in that stretch. Shavon Shields also played a big role in this game, relentlessly attacking the rim and answering every challenge Indiana posed.
They weren't able to put the Hoosiers away, however. The Huskers built an 11 point lead, 46-35 at the under 16 media timeout. After the stoppage, the Hoosiers went on a 17-6 run to pull even at 52. They had five straight possessions after that point with the opportunity to take the lead and never could. The Huskers made them pay for missing out on that opportunity and were able to do just enough down the stretch to pull out the win.
The game also saw the return of an effective Ray Gallegos. Gallegos, coming into the season was thought to be the most dangerous scorer from deep on the roster. That hasn't turned out to be the case, he has been a season long funk, unable to get any sort of shot to fall consistently. On this night, however, that changed. Gallegos connected three times from deep. He hadn't more than two in his previous eight games and had failed to hit from behind the arc three times in that stretch. The last time he hit three times or more: vs. Indiana.
Now, with their third road win in four games, the Huskers are now on the precipice of accomplishing something that has not happened for this program since 1998. Sunday will see the #9 Wisconsin pay a visit to Pinnacle Bank Arena for what has become the most anticipated basketball game in at least 15 years with as much riding on the outcome as arguably has ever been the case in program history. The Huskers have handled nearly every challenge thrown their way since that Jan. 23rd loss to Penn St. The Badgers will be their biggest. Win and they're likely in. Those aren't words we're used seeing around these parts. If they do pull it off, wait until you see what words get used then.