While it may be too late to make a difference in NCAA Tournament at-large talk, Nebraska's 69-58 victory Tuesday night over Missouri solidifies Nebraska's position for at least a spot in the National Invitation Tournament.
The Huskers (19-10, 7-8 in the Big 12 Conference) close the regular season Saturday at Colorado, then begin play next week at the Big 12 Tournament, where Nebraska can be no worse than a No. 8 seed.
A victory in Boulder, and the Huskers could rise as high as a No. 5 seed, and a first-round game with No. 12 seed Iowa State, the team that popped Nebraska's NCAA Tournament bubble hopes with an overtime victory on Saturday in Ames.
Nebraska, in its final season in the Big 12 Conference, is seeking its second 8-8 league finish in the last three years.
The secret is, there was no secret. "We never practiced 'em," he said. But just as Sadler got the credit then, he's shouldering the blame now for his team's terrible shooting from the free-throw line over the last three games.
Nebraska is 38-of-63, for 60.3 percent, in that span. It's 14-of-23 performance against Missouri wasn't a factor. But going 6-of-13 at the line in a one-point overtime loss at Iowa State certainly was. Nebraska also missed free throws late in a four-point loss to Kansas State last week. Two years ago, Nebraska missed key free throws late in games that cost the team an NCAA Tournament trip. It's possible the simplest of shots have cost the Huskers that same opportunity this year.
--Nebraska seniors Lance Jeter and Drake Beranek keyed a 17-2 second-half run in the Husker's 69-58 victory over No. 22 Missouri on Senior Night in Lincoln on Tuesday night. The game was tied at 40 when the duo accounted for eight points in an 11-0 run to give Nebraska control. The Huskers led by as many as 15, and Missouri never got closer than 10 points thereafter.
--NU coach Doc Sadler improved to 7-5 against Missouri and coach Mike Anderson. In six of those victories, the Huskers have held the pressing, fast-paced Tigers to an average of 58 points. Sadler and Anderson were also coaching rivals when the two coaches at UTEP and Alabama-Birmingham, respectively.
--Lance Jeter had 16 points, seven rebound and seven assists, and was key in pushing the pace in the second half. He helped the Huskers score three straight baskets in transition when the Huskers seized control early in the second half.
--Nebraska began the game with a dreadful shooting performance. The Huskers started 4-of-18 from the field, yet trailed only 17-12 with 5:12 remaining in the first half. Nebraska shot 21-of-29 throughout the rest of the game to finish at 53.2 percent.
--Nebraska ended the regular season 17-2 at the Devaney Center and matched the school record for most home wins in a season. The Huskers' 6-2 home conference record is their best since the first three seasons of the Big 12.
--Stout defense has been a staple for Nebraska all season and was the key ingredient behind a push to an NCAA Tournament berth. But that goal dissolved with a Feb. 26 loss at Iowa State and defense was to blame. The 83-82 overtime setback marked just the second time an opponent scored more than 80 points (Kansas, 86) and the third time an opponent shot better than 50 percent (50.9). Nebraska entered the game with a 59.2-point defensive yield, tops in the Big 12.
--Nebraska actually outshot Iowa from 3-point range (12-10 on makes), even though the Cyclones came in ranked 12th nationally with 8.7 makes on average. The Huskers also claimed a 35-30 advantage on the boards and had two players, G Lance Jeter and C Jorge Brian Diaz, record double-doubles.
BY THE NUMBERS: 33 -- Collective margin in the six losses Nebraska has suffered out of seven Big 12 road games. Five defeats resulted in losses of 1, 1, 3, 4 and 8 points, as well as a 16-point defeat at Kansas State. Nebraska's lone conference road win was at Oklahoma and it still must play at Colorado on March 5.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's got nothing to do with the coaching staff. That's on the team. If we don't come out and have a sense of urgency about ourselves and care about the team enough to make plays and give the energy plays needed, you can't look at anyone else but yourself." -- Nebraska G Toney McCray.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--at Colorado, March 5
KEY MATCHUPS: The Huskers draw another opponent that prefers to play at a fast tempo. First-year coach Tad Boyle established that preference when he took over, in some part because he wants the Buffs to capitalize on thin mountain air. G Cory Higgins and G Alec Burks are good at creating shots and driving to the basket. Underneath, the Buffs are usually outsized, though G Marcus Relphorde helps on the glass.
FUTURES MARKET: Now is the time Nebraska needs more heroics. After things were as rosy as possible following a Feb. 19 upset of Big 12 leader Texas, the Huskers dropped games against North Division rivals Kansas State and Iowa State to likely fall out of the NCAA Tournament hunt. The Huskers must renew whatever enthusiasm and resolve they carry for hard-nosed defense and rely on that for any late turnaround, though Missouri and Colorado are vying for first-round byes in the Big 12 Tournament.
--Senior G Lance Jeter posted career bests of 27 points and 10 rebounds while providing a double-double in a Feb. 26 overtime loss at Iowa State.
--Sophomore C Jorge Brian-Diaz also recorded a double-double against Iowa State with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Nine of his boards were on the offensive end.
--Junior C Andre Almeida, who scored 10 points off the bench in the Feb. 19 upset of Texas, managed just four points against Kansas State and four points against Iowa State. He played only eight minutes in the OT loss against the Cyclones, but was still the top scorer among the Huskers' reserves.