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January 29, 2011

Huskers stun No. 13 Texas A&M in 57-48 upset

A week after suffering one of its most disappointing losses of the season, Nebraska came back and got arguably its biggest win in years on Saturday.

After struggling through the first half, the Huskers outscored No. 13 Texas A&M 33-17 in the second half and pulled off a 57-48 upset over the Aggies in front of a Devaney Center season-high 10,539 fans.

The win was NU's 14th straight at home this season and its first victory over a ranked team since Feb. 7, 2009, against then-No. 16 Texas.

"It's huge, especially coming off a game like Texas Tech," senior point guard Lance Jeter said. "We could've been down, but we didn't. We rose back up. We had a short memory. We got back focus and had a huge win. I'm just proud of my team."

Trailing by seven early in the second half, Nebraska (15-5 overall, 3-3 Big 12) steadily chipped away at the deficit and eventually tied the game at 37-37 on a jump hook by junior center Andre Almeida with 11:07 to go.

The Aggies (17-3, 4-2) responded and reclaimed the lead at 42-39, but the Huskers came right back with a 10-1 run that included three fastbreak lay-ups by Jeter to take their biggest lead of the day to that point at 49-43 with 4:37 remaining.

Texas A&M came back and cut the deficit to three at 51-48 on a basket by Nathan Walkup, but sophomore guard Eshaunte Jones came up with the shot of the game when he drained a 3-pointer with 1:10 remaining and the shot clock winding down to put NU back up 54-48.

After shooting just 37.5 percent from the field in the first half, Nebraska came out and shot 50 percent in the second half. On the other end, Texas A&M was held to just two field goals in the final 10 minutes of the game.

"I challenged the team at halftime," head coach Doc Sadler said. "I said 'It's real simple: the team that comes out here and controls the defensive boards and doesn't give up second shots (and) wins the transition battle is going to win this ball game' I thought for the most part we did pretty well."

Nebraska's game plan worked to near perfection through the first 10 minutes of the game, as Texas A&M struggled to even get a shot off early on due to the Huskers' defensive pressure. The only problem was NU had it's own issues getting points.

A basket and a free throw by junior guard Toney McCray made it 16-16, but the Aggies jumped out with a 9-2 run and took a 25-18 lead on a 3-pointer by Andrew Darko with 5:32 to go in the half.

Texas A&M would go on to increase its lead to as many as eight points, but Nebraska cut the deficit to 31-24 at halftime on free throw with 2.9 seconds left by sophomore center Jorge Brian Diaz, who scored 10 of his game- and season-high 16 points in the first half

The Huskers shot just 2-of-11 from 3-point range and were out-rebounded 19-9, including 4-1 on the offensive glass, in the first half. Texas A&M, on the other hand, shot 52 percent from the field.

"I thought it was a game of two halves," Sadler said. "I thought A&M was definitely the more aggressive basketball team the first half, and we got a little flustered offensively when they were hitting some 3s and we tried to maybe match those 3s instead of just being patient."

Jeter finished with 10 points, four assists and a team-high six rebounds for the Huskers, and junior guard Brandon Richardson also scored 10 points. Walkup led A&M with 13 points and Khris Middleton added 12.

Texas A&M was the highest-ranked team Nebraska has knocked off in five seasons under Sadler and the highest since defeating No. 12 Oklahoma back on Jan. 7, 2006. The Huskers will return to action on Wednesday when they travel to take on Kansas State.

"It's huge," Sadler said of the win. "You won another one and you're 3-for-3 in the league at home. Again, if you're going to have a chance to compete in this league you've got to take care of home court."

Around the rim

***As happy as Nebraska was with its upset victory, it didn't come without a potentially hefty price tag. Moments after making a game-tying basket with 10:30 left in the game, Almeida jumped and landed awkwardly on defense and collapsed to the floor. After laying on the court for a few minutes, he was able to get up and walk to the locker room under his own power.

He returned to the bench later in the game with an ice pack wrapped around his right ankle and did not play again in the game. Afterwards, Sadler said Almeida's injury prognosis didn't look promising.

"It's not good, I don't think," Sadler said. "It's pretty sore, swollen."

***Diaz played one of his best games of the season against the Aggies, and he did despite a very heavy heart. The Puerto Rico native learned Friday afternoon that his aunt had passed away due to an illness. Immediately after the game, Diaz was taken to Omaha for a flight to go home to Puerto Rico to be with his family, and he isn't expected to rejoin the team until Wednesday's game against Kansas State.

"It's a tough deal," Sadler said. "Yesterday morning he comes in, and I knew there was an illness because when we were down there (in Puerto Rico) earlier they had told us that it wasn't good. He came in, and one of the biggest things is he wanted to stay and play.

"I will say this about Brian: he came in Monday and worked out when we didn't work out. I think you saw a much more aggressive Brian Diaz tonight. I think I probably more so than you all continue to forget Brian Diaz is a sophomore. I mean, he's a sophomore in a pretty good league, and he's had some pretty good games."

Considering all that he was going through, Diaz's teammates couldn't say enough about his effort on Saturday.

"Brian Diaz is my hero," Richardson said. "With the circumstance that he's going through right now and to play like this, he's a champion. He played great tonight. I just send my prayers to him and his family, and us as Husker Nation send out our condolences to him and his family."

***Texas A&M shot just 6-of-14 from the free throw line on Saturday, while Nebraska went 12-of-17. Coming into the game, the Aggies ranked second in the Big 12 with a free throw shooting percentage of 72.4.

***Sadler said the season-high crowd at Devaney gave the Huskers a huge emotional lift, especially during the game's final minutes.

"What can I say about the crowd? We wouldn't have won this basketball game if we wouldn't have had a full house," he said. "If we had 7 or 8,000 - because you saw what happened when Lance made a couple of plays, you can't hear. You can't hear. We're used to playing at home, so we're comfortable. Opposing teams may be a little bit less comfortable.

"When I walked out and saw a near capacity crowd inside, I really smiled, because I know how much it means to us. We'll probably sooner or later lose (at home) sometime in the next 10 years, but I hope they stay with us."

Richardson said certain points were easily the loudest he'd ever heard the Devaney Center get.

"I remember one time I was walking to the bench and the ground started shaking," Richardson said. "I thought I was back in California because it (felt like) an earthquake."

***Some of the most crucial plays down the stretch were Jeter's full-court fastbreak lay-ups he made literally all on his own. Sadler said those types of plays are what make Jeter such a valuable player for the Huskers.

"The thing is, again, Lance is the guy who gave us the spark," Sadler said. "If you look at the plays that Lance gets the defensive rebounds, I would say that probably 40, 50 percent of those times something good is going to happen. When he gets it, he's got one thing on his mind and he pushes it. From baseline to baseline, if you're just getting into a race with him, he's pretty quick and pretty fast in that area."

***With the victory, Nebraska matched its entire 2009-10 win total and eclipsed its Big 12 win total of a year ago.

***With his four assists in the game, Jeter moved in sole possession of 20th place on Nebraska's career assist list.



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