LINCOLN, Neb. — Incarnate Word. Samford. Gardner-Webb.
Each of those teams have ventured into Pinnacle Bank Arena and come out with a win over the past three seasons.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs took the lead for good at the 12:47 mark on a 3-pointer by forward Tyrell Nelson and held on for a 70-62 win on Sunday afternoon in front of a crowd of 8,144.
“I have to look in the mirror obviously because this was our third upset — so to speak, if you call it that — in December,” Nebraska Coach Tim Miles said. “We had one last year against Samford and then Incarnate Word got us [two years ago]. I have to look at how I’m preparing the guys and how I’m getting them better to avoid that because that’s just unacceptable. That’s unacceptable in my book. It should be for our fans and anybody. It should be unacceptable for our players.”
The Huskers got off to a slow start and never really got into a rhythm. The small crowd was searching for a reason to get into the game, and Nebraska never truly gave it to them.
“It was the smallest crowd I’ve ever seen at Pinnacle Bank Arena and we told our guys before the game it was going to be,” Miles said. “We got bad weather, you’ve got a lot of things going on. We’re going to have to create our own energy. We talked about that and we didn’t. You come out, you don’t get any big play. You don’t make a 3, you don’t get a dunk, you don’t do anything, and that just fed into it.”
Nebraska methodically worked its way out to an 11-4 lead at the 13:08 mark, and that proved to be the biggest lead of the game for the Huskers. Gardner-Webb scored the next five points and Nebraska’s lead never got past five the rest of the game.
The Bulldogs battled back to tie the game at 22-all around the five-minute mark. Nebraska led 30-28 with 3:13 to go, and neither team scored the rest of the half. Both teams shot around 40 percent from the field in the first half while Nebraska was just 1-of-9 from deep. Senior guard Tai Webster led all scorers with 10 points.
Gardner-Webb big man L’Hassan Niangane tied the game with a dunk on the first possession of the second half, and the teams proceeded to trade the lead seven times in the second half.
The Bulldogs’ lead bounced between two and seven points throughout the first half as Nebraska just couldn’t string together enough buckets and stops to draw even or get back ahead.
Trailing 65-62 with 56 seconds remaining, the Huskers needed one stop to give themselves a chance. Gardner-Webb ran down the clock, attacked the basket and dumped the ball off to a cutting David Efianyi for a layup with 29 seconds to play.
“We had a critical play there at the end in the last two minutes where LaQuincy Rideau kind of came to a stop and bounce-passed it to Efianayi for a layup,” Gardner-Webb coach Tim Craft said. “That was huge. I think we made just enough plays to keep that two-possession lead there. It seemed like every time they had a chance to close it down, something happened. We got a blocked shot or we scrapped out a big rebound and were able to put a stop together.”
The Bulldogs hit 3-of-4 free throws in the final 30 seconds while Nebraska failed to score, making the final margin of eight Garder-Webb’s biggest lead of the game.
Webster finished with 17 points on 6-of-14 shooting and seven turnovers. Glynn Watson provided 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting with three assists and one turnover in his first game off the bench.
Miles adjusted his starting lineup in the second half of the Huskers’ previous game at Kansas with Anton Gill, Evan Taylor and Jordy Tshimanga starting in place of Watson, Jack McVeigh and Michael Jacobson, calling the group he sent out there his toughest players. Miles stuck with those changes with Jacobson in place of Tshimanga to start the game on Sunday.
“In practice, how guys perform, who was locked into a game plan because we struggled on Friday in practice, that’s what got Jordy [Tshimanga] out of the starting lineup, basically,” Miles said. “I’ve seen Jordy play better; I think he can play better. That’s why Michael got in … Other than that, it was the same lineup that started the second half against Kansas.”
The loss drops the Huskers below .500 at 5-6 with one non-conference game remaining before Big Ten play begins. Miles said he is always in a state of reflection on what he’s done in Lincoln, but Sunday’s loss gives him something extra to consider.
“I would have never dreamt in five years this is where we’d be, losing to Gardner-Webb,” Miles said. “Not to discredit Gardner-Webb, but we’re not at a state that – we’re not where we should be.”
Forward Tyrell Nelson gave the Huskers fits, finishing with 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting with nine rebounds, while Efianayi was the only other Bulldog in double figures with 11 points off the bench. The Bulldogs out-shot Nebraska 44.6 percent to 39.3 percent from the field and more than doubled the Huskers’ percentage from deep. Nebraska shot 3-of-17 from 3-point range, continuing a disturbing trend of poor shooting from the perimeter that has crippled the offense.
“I’m surprised we are not shooting better at home,” Miles said. “There are a few guys that don’t take great 3s. Other than that, I thought there were a few guys that got really good looks too and they just didn’t go in. Confidence is earned, you just got to go out and do it. You can’t wish and hope for it.”
Nebraska did win the battle of the boards 45-34 led by Ed Morrow’s career-high 18, the most in the Pinnacle Bank Arena era, but Nebraska also turned the ball over 20 times and shot 57.7 percent at the free-throw line.
Next up for the Huskers is a game against Southern at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.
“Tomorrow we’ll watch film here and we’ll have a game plan ready to go … The issue is us, too,” Miles said. “It’s us, and it’s our mindset. You just go across the line and you can find something wrong with production, but that ultimately falls to me getting guys in the right places. This is on me. I hope to have a heck of a lot better answer for you on Tuesday.”
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.