The Huskers couldn't be stopped and it seemed as though the Cowboys had to
continually burn time off the clock and put forth more energy to score. That
desire to make your opponent truly earn their points has always been a part of
Nebraska basketball since Coach Barry Collier came; the only difference tonight
was that Nebraska seemed to create their own easy shots for points. An amazing
showcase of heart and determination propelled the Huskers to a dominant victory.
At one point early in the game, the Huskers were down 11 points and I, probably
along with many other fans, was hoping it wouldn't be a blowout victory for
Oklahoma State. The Cowboys were playing great basketball heading into this game
and were atop the conference standings. They were playing for a number one seed
in both the Big XII postseason tournament and NCAA Tournament. Even with all
that on the line and the Huskers clearly at a low point in the year, the players
never quit on the coaching staff and continually showed the desire and passion
needed for victory.
Nebraska never trailed during the second half. They opened with a 12-0 run because of harassing defense that didn't allow points by the Cowboys until over six minutes of the half had passed. Even making 11 three-pointers and shooting 46% from beyond the three-point line couldn't cut the lead for the Cowboys. Every time it appeared as though Nebraska was ready to give the game away, they would make a couple shots and the Cowboys would go cold once more.
In a sign of what the future of the program has in store, two freshmen were the leading scorers for the Huskers. Aleks Maric earns his second straight MVP of the game for his career high 15 points. He showed amazing balance and poise in the low post position on offense. He hit a few jumpers to show off his great range for a man who is 6'-11'' 265 lbs and dished off three assists when double teams came his way. Freshman Joe McCray had yet another strong game for the Huskers as he scored a game high 22 points.
On the same day an article in the Omaha World Herald called for the firing of Head Coach Barry Collier, the Huskers seemed better prepared than the Cowboys. This is a surprise considering the legendary Eddie Sutton coaches them. I recognized numerous wise coaching decisions by Collier tonight. He ran double screens to get looks for McCray. He benched Wes Wilkinson after failing to play good defense on a pick and roll by Oklahoma State. He understood that Jake Muhleisen had a height advantage on John Lucas and ran a few plays that ended up drawing fouls. He put in our best ball handler Charles Richardson when the Cowboys clearly were going to trap the Huskers. I know many fans of the Huskers don't appreciate Collier but I think tonight is a perfect example of what he can do. Collier can only tell the players so much, it's up to them to go out and execute. Tonight the players did just that.
The evening was nothing but perfect for Nebraska and its fans. Even the halftime performance of extreme gymnasts who dunked off trampolines was impressive! This victory puts Nebraska in position to continue play in the NIT for a second consecutive season. Nebraska is now 12-12 on the year and 5-8 in conference play. They will need to win two of their final three games for definite eligibility in the NIT postseason tournament. That scenario would mean even an opening round loss in the postseason conference tournament would still allow for an NIT bid.
Nebraska faces Iowa State on Sunday at 1 p.m. It will be a game of opposites in Ames. Iowa State suffered a 16-point defeat to Texas A&M tonight which ended their seven game winning streak while Nebraska will now enter with a much needed confident swagger.
Nebraska Postgame notes
"I told Barry (Collier) that you hate to lose, but if it had to be to somebody, at least it was him. I think that they have had a tough season and that they are a better ballclub than their record would indicate. Barry is a very good coach. I hope these people get off his case and start to show him some appreciation. If he gets the class that he has coming in here with the guys that he has returning, I think that they will really be competitive next year."
"I have always thought that their defense is very good. Tonight they were switching much more than they noramlly do when we play. I couldn't get Joey Graham or Ivan (McFarlin) to roll to the basket when they were switching. Finally when Joey went down there late, he charged into th guy. It was just a bad game at a bad time."
"I think that he is a very good basketball coach. I don't think that he has had the players that you need to compete in the Big 12, but as a coach, he is great. I think that when he came here, the players he recruited were the kind of players he could win with at Butler. I think he has realized that he needs a few more athletes, and he is starting to get them. I have great respect for Barry."
On the game:
"I thought we played a really good team tonight and we needed a great effort to win and we believed we could. I thought the big guys, Aleks Maric in particular, scoring was important to us. We executed our game plan defensively extremely well especially with Joey Graham and John Lucas. Coach Spinelli did the scouting report and did a great job with the game plan. We wanted to pay special attention to Graham. He's an excellent player who had his way with us last year. Secondly, we wanted to keep Lucas under wraps. Those two shoot the ball for them quite a bit."
"He certainly had a great game. He was aggressive and sharp. He had several double teams and he handled it about as well as he has all year. He's really improved throughout the year. We got rolling getting the ball inside to Aleks and Joe McCray was able to get loose on a couple of inbounds plays."
"We're focused on being the best that we can be. We want to be better tomorrow than we were today. I think we were at the top of our game tonight. I told the team at halftime that I didn't think we'd played as well as we could have."
"Joe has a lot of energy. I thought he did a great job on the defensive end as well as the offensive end. I thought he made an excellent pass to John Turek in the paint. I thought he had high energy and anticipated well tonight."
"We knocked the ball loose a couple of times and scored off that. We don't have to press to create turnovers, we can create turnovers by being aggressive. They were scoring at a pretty good clip and without the turnovers they would probably have been ahead."
"It gets us some confidence and positive thoughts heading into our final three games."
On the win over Oklahoma State:
"It's great to get a win, especially in the Big 12. We beat a great team tonight. We played well as a team, had a great effort, and we communicated better than ever tonight. This game shows what we're capable of doing when we play with high energy."
"Joe made some huge shots tonight, some tough shots. He got some fouls and really stepped up his game."
"Aleks was huge tonight. He's a good passer, and he had lots of great passes tonight. I loved seeing him shoot that three. It showed he had confidence in himself."
On his feelings before and after the win:
"It felt good. I was feeling ready to play. I had the same urgency as everyone on the team. When you have the No. 4 team coming to your house, you have to be ready."
"We knew [Oklahoma State] would come back with pressure, and we just stayed composed out there. The Husker defense played really well today."