"Defense gets the lead and offense keeps it," Texas coach Rick Barnes noted. "That didn't happen tonight."
Abrams' trey from the right wing gave Texas the lead for good as the Horns knocked down six straight foul shots during the final 24 ticks to keep their Big 12 Conference title hopes alive with one regular season game remaining.
"My role on the team is to be a scorer," Abrams said. "I'm not going to let them down."
But his teammates suffered a near fatal letdown after Connor Atchley opened the second period with a trey, spotting Texas what appeared to be a safe 43-26 cushion. So, how did this worm turn?
"We had some turnovers and they all came back to back to back," Barnes said. "They (Nebraska) got going. They got the rhythm. They have three guys that we have to honor from the three-point line. They made shots. They shot 6-of-11 from three-point range in the second half. Our turnovers helped them. We had some careless turnovers."
To be sure, it is a shot-blocking Texas team that at times boasts as suffocating of a defense as you'll find in college hoops. But the Horns are still looking for a consistent high-low game and continue to live and die from three-point land. The Horns sank six three-balls, but just four two-pointers, in the entire second half. Meanwhile, the Huskers dominated the points in the paint (28-10) and won the battle of the boards, 31-30. Both teams were guilty of 10 turnovers, but Texas enjoyed a better day at their charity stripe. The Horns connected on 13-of-18 FTs (72.2 percent) while the Huskers were an abysmal 10-21 (44.4 percent) from the foul line, or else this one might have turned out differently.
As it is, the Horns improved to 25-5, tying the school record for the most regular season wins. The Horns upped their mark to 12-3 in league play, tied with Kansas atop the conference standings with one game to play. Nebraska fell to 17-11, 6-9 in Big 12 action.
Assuming Kansas wins at Texas A&M this weekend, Texas can clinch a share of the Big 12 title and the top seed in the Conference Tournament (March 13-16) with a win against Oklahoma Sate on Senior Day. Tip-off is set for 3:00 p.m. (Central) Sunday and will be televised nationally on ESPN.
Versus the Huskers, the Horns were 24-of-50 (48 percent) from the floor while the Huskers converted 26-of-58 (44.8 percent) of their FG attempts. Nebraska was 10-of-21 (47.6 percent) from three-point range, one more than Texas in as many attempts. (42.9 percent).
D.J. Augustin led all scorers with 22 points (9-of-16 FG) despite being double-teamed most of the evening. Damion James showed up with 16 points (6-of-9 FG), nine rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Abrams tallied 15 points, but was just 1-of-5 from three-point range. That one, of course, was a dagger. It was an off night offensively for Atchley (2-of-8 FG, six points) but he tied his career mark with five blocked shots.
Barnes pulled starters Justin Mason, James and Atchley as Nebraska jumped to a 10-3 lead in the first five minutes of play. James returned to score five straight, including a two-handed slam, before Augustin's right baseline jumper tied the score at 14. Abrams' first bucket gave Texas its first lead to cap an 11-2 run.
Gary Johnson followed his jump hook in the lane with a pair of free throws to spot Texas a 27-20 advantage with 5:09 remaining until the break. James converted his steal into another slam to extend the Longhorn lead. The Horns switched from man defense to a 2-3 zone for the first time in the ballgame, quickly resulting in an Abrams' steal and an Augustin layup. It was all part of a 15-0 run for Texas' first double-digit lead at 31-20.
The Huskers committed three turnovers in four possessions against the Longhorn zone, setting up James' straight-away trey and a 36-22 cushion. After misfiring on seven of their first 10 FG attempts, the Horns went 11-of-16 down the stretch to take a 38-25 lead into the lockerroom.
Atchley finally got on the scoreboard when he opened the second period with a three-ball from the left wing. But the Huskers heated up from outside the arc, responding with a 13-3 run to pull within 45-39. NU reserve Paul Velander's third trey suddenly made it a single-possession game at 47-44. Augustin's deep trey held the Huskers at arm's length before Sek Henry's driving layup completely erased the Longhorn lead, knotting the affair at 50.
"They just made a run," Augustin said. "That's how the game is. I think we were playing the right defense. They just made their shots. We had to fight through it."
Augustin's deep, straight-on trey broke the tie, 55-52, but the Huskers were playing evenly on the boards and dominating the paint. Mason's three-ball from the left wing pushed the Longhorn lead to six with 6:30 remaining. Ryan Anderson's fourth trey followed Atchley's second FG from three-point range as the Horns nursed a 61-57 lead. Aleks Maric's slam pulled the Huskers within two as Barnes called for a stoppage of play at the 3:12 mark.
The Huskers called their final timeout after Atchley misfired from three-point range. Maric tied the affair at 61 with 1:39 to go. Augustin misfired but James came down with the biggest board of the contest. It set up Abrams' clutch three-ball from the right wing. He then knocked down four straight foul shots to all but put the game on ice.
Augustin was honored just before tip-off for his recent designation as an ESPN first-team Academic All-American. Augustin pulled a 4.0 during the fall semester to become Texas basketball's first Academic All-American since Jim Krivaks (1979).