LINCOLN — If comparative scores are your thing, check this out as Nebraska enters Big Ten men’s basketball play:
The Huskers, in their final nonconference game Saturday afternoon, had to hustle to the end to subdue Nicholls State 68-59. The Colonels are 1-9 and played their only home game 33 days ago.
Michigan State, currently ranked 19th nationally but just sixth-best in the Big Ten, defeated Nicholls State a month ago — by 45 points.
In other words, get ready for Big Boy Basketball.
“Things are about to get real here in about three days,” senior Brandon Ubel said.
That’s when NU leaves for its Big Ten opener, which is Wednesday at No. 10 Ohio State (10-2). The Buckeyes, when similarly ranked last season, beat the Huskers by 31 and 34 points.
Nebraska (9-4) had a chance Saturday to roll up its own big victory margin in front of a Devaney Center crowd of 8,174, which was boosted by a Boy Scout ticket promotion.
With 12:02 left, the Huskers had stretched their 31-17 halftime lead to 49-30 after back-to-back 3-pointers from guard Ray Gallegos.
But Nicholls State, which missed 18 of its first 21 shots, closed to 60-56 with 46 seconds to go. Nebraska, which had clanked 7 of 9 free throws in a three-minute stretch late in the game, drilled 10 in a row in the final 57 seconds to hang on.
“I had an issue,” Husker coach Tim Miles said, “with mentality, with aggressiveness and with confidence.”
The game had an eerie resemblance to a Dec. 18 matchup with Jacksonville State in which Nebraska saw a 15-point lead at home dwindle to one before salvaging a 59-55 win.
“I don’t know what happens mentally for us, but we just kind of relax,” said Ubel, who led four NU double-figure scorers with 18 points. “I’m not sure why, but we’ve got to get that fixed.”
Miles said the idea of entering cruise control during a game is foreign to those who played basketball before the AAU culture of 80 to 100 games a year took hold.
“Every possession has got to matter to you,” he said. “These kids nowadays with AAU, it’s a symptom of a larger societal problem — they play so many games.
“But when I was a kid, if you missed a practice or a game, it crushed you. It broke your heart. It’s not like that anymore.”
Big Ten play will more closely resemble the every-possession-matters mindset.
“You’ve got to get guys in a competitive mode, and they have to build confidence,” Miles said. “I don’t think we did that today. That’s what was disappointing about the effort.
“When things get tight, you have to eliminate fear, worry and doubt.”
Nicholls State coach J.P. Piper said his team’s first-half woes ruined any chance to win.
“I guess we are road weary,” he said, noting a schedule that has included trips from the Colonels’ home in Louisiana to Vanderbilt, Missouri, Michigan State and Utah State. “We just did not have it in the first half — no pop, no zip.”
Nebraska’s 9-4 nonconference record is “kind of a disappointment,” Ubel said.
“We wanted 10 or 11 wins, and wanted to be a little more competitive in a couple of those games,” he said. “If we had done that, we wouldn’t have put so much pressure on ourselves in conference.
“If you go 8-10 in this league, you are in the postseason. So that’s our goal, and we think we can do that if we take care of the home court.”
Ľ Notes: Tyronn Lue, who led Nebraska to its most recent NCAA tournament appearance in 1998, will be inducted into the NU basketball hall of fame on Feb. 16. The All-Big 12 point guard, who played 11 years in the NBA and won two championships, is an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics. ... Ubel’s 10 of 11 free throws were career highs. ... NU’s seven turnovers were a season low.
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