You are all familiar with the unfortunate fact the Nebraska Cornhuskers Men’s Basketball team does not have much success in March Madness. Over the course of their history, they have only made the NCAA Tournament seven times, going 0-7 in the first round. In the National Invitation Tournament, they have made 19 total appearances, going 24-18 in the NIT for a 57.1% winning record. However, they have only made the quarterfinals four times. As for celebrating conference banners, they haven’t been hanging one at the season’s end in March since 1950, and haven’t won a conference tournament except for once in 1994.
So what really is there to celebrate with that record? Well, it just so happens the Huskers have one post-season run they can look back on with particular pride when it comes to actual hardware. That happens to be the 1996 NIT tournament. Part 1 took a look back at the first three rounds a few weeks ago, and we are back now to recap the finals in Yew York City at Madison Square Gardens.
Nebraska 90-Tulane 78
The Huskers rolled into Madison Square Garden and formed a seawall the Tulane Green Wave couldn’t crest. I looked all over for a recap of this game and could not for the life of me find anything. So, there you have it. Nebraska won and moved onto the championship game against Saint Joseph. Way to go team!
Nebraska 60-St. Joe’s 56
A defensive slug fest powered the Huskers in this one. The Saint Joseph Hawks, also playing in their first ever national tournament title game, had a virtual home crowd advantage among the 12,464 fans in attendance as most came up from Philadelphia for the game. The Hawks rolled into this game after winning 12 of their last 16 games in the season as well compared to the Huskers who dropped 10 of their last 11 before NIT play started.
Nebraska was unable to run the fast break in this one against the St. Joe defense, but stifling Husker defense kept them from getting any good looks on offense in exchange. The Hawks shot just 32.3% from the field. The back-court for St. Joe overall went just 4-for-30 from the field.
The stifling defense allowed Nebraska to rattle off 13 of the last 22 points in the game to take a narrow lead for the victory. Reggie Townsen of the Hawks led overall in scoring with 18 points, but Nebraska’s Erick Strickland won tournament MVP while scoring 13 to lead Nebraska’s four players in double-digits. Though four Huskers managed double-digit scoring, no Husker scored more than four field goals apiece.
Once again, perhaps not the best look back, but when I had the idea for this article I figured the research would be easier to come by. It has proved not so much for quality game recaps to get an idea of the flow of these. Regardless, I do hope you’ve enjoyed the look back at the 1996 NIT title run!
And there you have it folks, Nebraska’s one and only March Madness title at the national level! Since then, Nebraska has made the NIT nine other times, and just three times over the last decade. They have gone 7-9 during that time frame, advancing to the quarter-finals in 1997 and the second round in 2004, 2008, and 2019 (‘97 and ‘04 both involved winning the first two games).
As for Head Coach Danny Nee, the man who accounts for 5 of Nebraska’s 7 all-time NCAA tournament appearances, he would proceed to make one more appearance in 1998 in the big dance. The Huskers fell to Arkansas 65-74 that year. Nee would go on to become the winning-est coach in Nebraska history in 2000 after beating Colorado 69-64 for his 254th career win as a Husker. He proceeded to lose the next three games and was fired after finishing 11-19 season (4-12 in Big XII play) for the worst season in a decade.
Meanwhile Nebraska is on their fourth coach since firing Nee, made the NCAA Tournament just once in 2014, have 14 seasons of losing conference records, and not much else to mention. I honestly do believe Coach Hoiberg will be the man to give some much needed excitement to the program over the long run despite how season one turned out.