The game wasn't always pretty, but the Huskers did enough defensively in front of a record crowd to keep their NCAA hopes alive on Saturday.
1. Crawford and Demps bothered… The Huskers held Northwestern's two leading scorers coming into the game, Drew Crawford and Tre Demps, to just 21 points on 7-of-28 shooting. Even more important, the Nebraska defense forced a combined nine turnovers from the two.
"We have to be able to score a little more," said Northwestern head coach Chris Collins. "A lot of it was their defense, but we were 4-for-9 from the free-throw line in the first half. We missed some open shots. When we do get open shots, we have to be able to make a fair percentage of them. I thought they did a good on Drew (Crawford) and Tre (Demps), forcing them into tough nights."
2.) Shavon Shields continues hot streak… And we are not talking about just his scoring – more his overall game. In the last four contests, Shields has averaged 14 points and 8 rebounds a contest – this includes his second double-double of the season on Saturday (17 points, 10 rebounds).
"There was that look in his eye," said Nebraska head coach Tim Miles. "His jumper looked great. He looked really fresh. This is the right time of year for him to look that way.
"Shavon is yelling at me, ‘give me the ball! Give me the ball!' And he was right by the way. We gave him the ball and got out of his way and he hit a big bucket and he was like, ‘keep giving it to me.' But then they started fouling and stuff. He's a guy that tonight, he was going to carry us. There was just no doubt."
3.) Benny Parker's bench presence continues to spark Huskers… I challenge anyone to find a bigger impact player off the bench right now in the Big Ten conference than Benny Parker. I didn't say as talented, I said as big of an impact.
Sitting on press row, one away reporter turned to me and said, "Parker is just a freaking pest." Ignore his 7 points and 2 rebounds against the Wildcats. Parker was diving on the floor, swatting passes, and in the middle, and pestering Northwestern every time they tried to drive to the rack. A fan favorite recently, Parker's play also energizes the student section, something that doesn't show up on television or in the box score.
His biggest play came late in the second half, with the Huskers up a few points. Parker stepped in front of a driving Northwestern player to draw a charge that almost seemed to be a dagger for Wildcat's chances.
"I thought Benny Parker's charge was the biggest play of the game," said Miles. "There's no doubt about it. And then Shavon Shields' either before or after jumper. The two key moments in the game I thought. We needed both those guys to step up. Kansas City, I'm loving him tonight. You know how it is."
1.) Slow start that lingered through the game… Nebraska won the game and any win in this conference is a good one, but the Huskers didn't exactly close out Northwestern like a NCAA team should. Many of the same struggles Nebraska has against Illinois earlier in the week were evident at home on Saturday.
"I didn't think frustration set in as much tonight," said Miles. "You could see guys were struggling and they knew they weren't at their best, but it didn't overwhelm them tonight. Maybe that's being at home and the crowd really cheering. And hopefully it's a sign of progress. I'm hoping, you know? So we'll see. We're going to find out on Wednesday (Indiana) for sure. I don't know how many games in a row we've held an opponent in the 30s in defensive field goal percentage, but we just said if we can be a dominant defensive team, we are going to win the game. We are going to win it with defense. And we kept that mantra going too. We just said ‘we'll find enough offense. Don't worry about it.'"
2.) Ray Gallegos continues to miss… The senior's struggles continued on Saturday, going just 2-of-9 from the field. Known as a streaky shooter over his career, Gallegos has never had a slump like this. In his last eight contests, he's just 12-of-47 from the field.
While he has struggled from long-range, Gallegos does deserve some credit for his scrappy defense over the stretch. On Saturday, he recorded four rebounds, one steal, and still drew the attention of the Northwestern defense. At this point, he still belongs in the rotation.
I'm calling for the hell of a story angle. Picture this…senior night against Wisconsin. Huskers need a win over the Badgers to make the NCAA tournament. Ray Gallegos, who's been struggling over the last half of the year, goes off for some crazy performance – lifting the Huskers to a win and possibly the better postseason. I can dream, can't I?
3.) Petteway's finishes tough week… Maybe the conference player of the year talk got to him, maybe he's mentally fatigued, but something was off about Terran Petteway's game on Saturday - the second straight contest he's struggled.
The Texas Tech transfer scored just 10 points on 3-of-12 shooting, constantly facing double-teams that he seemed to beat earlier in the conference season.
"Any time you play against a guy who can score against great defense, those are guys who are super dangerous," said Collins after the game. "Fortunately for us, he got in a little foul trouble early. That maybe took away some of his aggressiveness. I thought on the whole we did a good job of making him shoot tough shots, and then sometimes you just have to hope he's missing. He threw in some shots like he took tonight against us last time at our place down the stretch to beat us. I thought we fought him. We made him take tough shots and we were fortunate that maybe he missed some he normally makes."
* Nebraska broke their home attendance record, with 15,978 fans on Saturday. The Huskers will need a similar crowd and support next Sunday to beat nationally ranked Wisconsin.