The history of Nebraska men’s basketball at the Bob Devaney Sports Center is really a history of court storming. Over the past 37 years at the old, ugly cube on Court Street, the Huskers have been good at times but rarely good enough that a victory over the Kansases of the world didn’t merit a chaotic rushing of the court.
The 2012-13 Minnesota Golden Gophers, under normal circumstances, wouldn’t elicit one of those classic Devaney reactions, but these weren’t normal circumstances. This was the last game at the Bob.
So when senior forward Brandon Ubel knocked down a pair of free throws with less than two seconds remaining to seal a win for the Huskers, the court got stormed.
Final score: 53-51. It was the only ending that made sense.
“To close out Devaney, on Senior Night, my last game in Nebraska, fans rushing the court, there is no better way to end it and no better game that I’ve been a part of,” Ubel said.
But it wasn’t easy. This was archetypal Big Ten football on the basketball court – forty total fouls, two teams that didn’t crack 40-percent shooting from the field, bricks-on-bricks-on-bricks.
It was brutal. And sort of beautiful.
Nebraska (14-16, 5-12) never trailed in the game but it never felt like a lead was safe either. Nebraska coach Tim Miles played the first 10 minutes of the first half without making a sub as the Huskers clung to a 15-13 lead. But at the 9:37 mark Brandon Ubel picked up his second foul, forcing Miles hand.
It turned out to be the best tactical move of the night.
Enter Andre Almeida, the beefy senior who has seen his minutes steadily decrease as the season wore on. He didn’t start on Senior Night. What he did was better.
Over the final nine-and-a-half minutes of the first half, Almeida kept Nebraska in the lead. He grabbed three offensive rebounds, scored four points and blocked two shots. He helped Nebraska to a 23-21 halftime lead and he kept Ubel on the bench, his biggest contribution of all.
The Huskers opened the second half on a 10-3 run, spurred by a long jumper followed by a 3 from senior guard Dylan Talley, to open up a nine point lead with 14:11 remaining. It was the largest of the night.
Then Minnesota made its run. With freshman forward Shavon Shields on the bench after picking up his fourth foul, the Gophers scored eight points from the free throw line – four off free throws, four off offensive rebounds following missed free throws – sparking a 10-3 run to close within two at 36-34.
With 7:37 left, Miles was left with no choice but to put Shields back in.
“He just makes us better,” Miles said of the decision to insert Shields. “It’s not just running a play for him, he’s just a good player and makes good things happen.”
On the next possession, Ray Gallegos hit a 3-pointer, ending a nearly seven minute stretch without a field goal. But Shields would only stay in the game for three minutes, picking up his fifth foul on a questionable moving screen call.
Minnesota quickly closed to within two with 3:31 remaining before Ubel took over.
With Nebraska’s offense languishing 35-feet from the basket against the Gophers pressure man-to-man defense late in the game, Ubel called for the ball at the left elbow, drove the lane for a layup and was fouled. Nebraska, 46-41.
The Gophers answered with a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws from Andre Hollins to tie it at 46 with 2:15 left. Then Ubel again drove and completed a three-point play to make it 49-46. Minnesota wouldn’t get any closer over the game’s final two minutes until Hollins hit a meaningless 3-pointer at the end of regulation.
Ubel scored the Huskers final 10 points, finishing with a game-high 15. Almeida added four points, five rebounds and three blocks while Talley had 12 points in his final game at the Devaney Center.
“All three of our seniors were good in their own way,” Miles said. “Brandon took over at the end, Andre played his 18 best minutes of the year and Dylan was Dylan, a wing trying to play the point for us and make us effective.”
Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said he saw a different Nebraska team than the one that lost to the Gophers 84-65 a month ago in Minneapolis.
“They were very physical,” Smith said. “They did a good job screening and holding the screens. They were very physical with our players, I thought Almeida was outstanding, very physical and we didn’t have an answer for him. He just had a fantastic night. Ubel was outstanding. We did a good job on Gallegos and Dylan (Talley), they did what they had to do to win the game.”
And then Nebraska fans did what they had to do on the last night at the Bob. They ended up on the court one last time.
It was the only way.