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March 1, 2011

Huskers send seniors off with 69-58 win over Tigers

Lance Jeter wasn't about to leave the Devaney Center for the last time as a loser.

Behind 16 points, seven rebounds and seven assists from the senior point guard, Nebraska delivered a crushing blow to Missouri's post-season fate with a 69-58 win on Tuesday on Senior Night and the program's final home game as members of the Big 12 Conference.

After stumbling out of the gates in the first half, the Huskers (19-10 overall, 7-8 Big 12) out-scored the Tigers 42-33 and shot 66.7 percent from the field in the second half and snapped a two-game losing streak in the process.

"It's something special, especially when you're family is in town and they don't get too many chances to see their son play," Jeter said. "It was pretty special, but at the end of the day, all that matters is winning. We got that win, so that's all that matters. I wanted to get back on that win streak, and we've got tough one on Saturday. That's all I'm worried about."

Fellow senior Drake Beranek, who started just his fourth game of the season, scored seven points as Nebraska overcame 17 turnovers and dismal shooting to start the game by stifling the Tigers (22-8, 8-7) defensively and sending MU - which shot 10-of-22 from 3-point range - to the line just two times the entire game.

Missouri's 58 points in the loss were a season low, and the Tigers - who came in ranked sixth nationally averaging 82.8 points per game - had not scored fewer than 65 points all year.

"When you consider that in the last five games Missouri is averaging 83 points a game and you get a chance to hold them to 58, I can't say enough about our basketball team and what they did tonight," head coach Doc Sadler said.

The first half started off terribly for Nebraska offensively, but the good news was Missouri didn't do any better.

Despite starting off just 4-of-17 shooting from the field, 1-of-6 from 3-point range and 1-of-4 from the free throw line, the Huskers were able to keep it close by forcing the Tigers to have their own offensive struggles.

Nebraska didn't score in double figures until a free throw by Toney McCray with 8:13 left to go in the half, and at one point had 12 points and 10 turnovers. Missouri was able to go up by as much as 17-12 with just over five minutes left, but NU finally flipped the switch and started heating up.

The Huskers put together a 14-2 run and went up 26-19 on a 3 by McCray with 1:29 left in the half, but Missouri came right back with a 6-1 run of its own to cut the lead to 27-25, which ended up the halftime score.

For a brief moment it looked like Jeter had banked in a desperation half-court shot as time expired, but replays showed he didn't get it off in time.

"I knew it didn't count," Jeter said. "It looked good, though. The crowd got up. But in my head I knew I didn't get it off."

Missouri came back and reclaimed the lead at 38-36 on a basket by forward Ricardo Ratliffe with 16:48 left in the second half, but that lead wouldn't last much longer before Nebraska's offense finally took off.

Sparked by nine points by Jeter, the Huskers put together a 21-4 run over the next eight minutes and jumped out to a 57-42 lead with 7:41 remaining. After that, Missouri wouldn't come closer than 10 points the rest of the way, as NU finished the regular season 6-2 at home in Big 12 play and 17-2 at home overall, tying the school record for most home victories in a season.

Sophomore center Jorge Brian Diaz had 14 points while McCray scored 13 with five rebounds and sophomore forward Brandon Ubel had one of his best league games with 11 points and a game-high nine rebounds.

Missouri's Marcus Denmon, who went off for 27 points in the first meeting in Columbia, Mo., scored a game-high 19 points on 5-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc. Like NU, the Tigers have been a completely different team away from home, as they end the year 1-7 on the road in Big 12 play.

Nebraska will close out the regular season on Saturday when it travels to take on Colorado in a game that could give the Huskers an 8-8 record in conference play for the second time in the past three seasons.

While their NCAA Tournament hopes are still hanging by the thinnest of threads, the Huskers were finally able to do their post-season fate some good on Tuesday night. For Jeter and the rest of NU's seniors, that was the only option.

"It was a big win for us," Beranek said. "I think a lot of people have kind of lost faith in us, and for us to come back here at home and play a good team like Missouri and play them as tough as we did tonight and hold them to 58 points, I think that shows that we still have some fight in us. It's not over until it's over, and we're going to play it out as long as they let us and just see how it ends up."

Around the rim

***Sadler said the three keys of the game for the Huskers were to keep Missouri off the free throw line, eliminate turnovers and get transition baskets. Nebraska shot 23 free throws to MU's four and out-scored the Tigers 14-2 in fast-break points, and both teams committed 17 turnovers.

"Those three things were things we knew we had to take care of," Sadler said. "Two of the three I thought we did about as good of a job as you could do."

***As would be expected, Jeter got plenty of praise after the game for his performance.

"I'm very happy for Lance," Sadler said. "He got us going again like he's done so many times. When we were struggling in the first half offensively, we got some (fast breaks) from him and I think that's what got our offense going a little bit."

Beranek took the compliments a step further.

"Lance is the man," Beranek said. "That's simply put, but it's true. This team kind of goes as Lance goes, and we know that, and when he's going, he's good. He's just a phenomenal player. He's got a great will to win, and I'm glad I've had a chance to play with him a little bit and be his teammate."

***The biggest reason Nebraska was able to hold Missouri to just 2-of-4 shooting from the charity stripe was its willingness to let the Tigers fire away from 3-point range and not give up any drives to the basket.

"We wanted to pretty much play it like a zone tonight," Sadler said. "I thought for the most part we did a pretty good job of that in trying to cut out their driving lanes… I think when you play it the way we did, underneath a lot of stuff and keeping the ball in front of you, you're going to give up 10 3's, but I knew that we couldn't do both. So we just made the decision to take the drive away as best we could."

***Ubel's performance also didn't go unnoticed by Sadler after the game. Ubel's 11 points were his most in a Big 12 game and his nine rebounds were a career-high. He also shot a perfect 5-of-5 from the free throw line.

"I thought that may have been one of Brandon's best games since he's been here," Sadler said. "I really thought he was competing and going after balls. The missed free throw put-back was huge, the made free throws were huge."

***While Beranek couldn't put an exact number on the number of friends and family who made the trip from Ravenna, Neb., to cheer him in his final NU home game, he said he had more than enough to make up a decent sized cheering section.

"I was taking pictures for about 20 minutes after the game with everybody," Beranek said. "But I love it. Family is huge to me, and I love the support that they show. It's just been very special to be able to share the moments that I've had at Devaney with people, and good people at that."



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