LINCOLN — Well, it was Nebraska's Senior Night, you know.
That's why senior Brandon Ubel shook off a foul-riddled and scoreless first half to produce all 15 of his team-high points in the second.
That's why senior Dylan Talley scored nine of his 12 points in the final 16 minutes.
That's why senior Andre Almeida made his biggest contribution in weeks with four points, five rebounds and three blocks.
And that's why the Huskers closed a 37-year run at the Bob Devaney Sports Center in style Wednesday, knocking off expected NCAA tournament qualifier Minnesota 53-51. A rambunctious crowd of 12,781 — about 800 short of a sellout — stayed engaged throughout, then stormed the court one final time.
NU coach Tim Miles enjoyed the scene as much as anyone, exhorting the crowd over the public address system just after the final buzzer. But in the interview room, he cautioned about trying to claim the day as some sort of turning point.
“It's one game,” he said. “You don't change momentum. You gain momentum, little by little. This program is just going to take one step at a time.
“It's a great win. What a night to celebrate. Just the historic value of the evening, with the last game at the Devaney, was awesome. But that doesn't give us any more momentum than anything else.”
That fact didn't stop Miles from bragging on his three seniors, and how they have helped him through a first season of low expectations with high-character play.
“All three of our seniors were good in their own way,” the coach said. “Brandon took over at the end. Andre played his 18 best minutes of the year. And Dylan was Dylan.”
Nebraska (14-16, 5-12) never trailed, but never got anywhere close to comfortable during what was as much cage match as basketball.
Almeida, who hadn't scored in the previous five games, was a lifesaver in the first half.
The 6-foot-11, 340-pounder scored four points, grabbed three rebounds and blocked two shots in 10 minutes off the bench to help NU claim a 23-21 halftime lead. He did it with his mother in attendance from Sao Paulo, Brazil. She had never seen him play on American soil.
“I didn't say a word to Andre,” Miles said. “He just rose to the occasion, and that's pretty cool.”
Nebraska stormed out of halftime on a 10-3 run to go up 33-24, with Ubel and Talley each scoring five points.
Minnesota slowly clawed back, closing to 36-34 and 41-39. Then Ubel went to work.
First, he blew by Minnesota senior forward Trevor Mbakwe — who had 15 points and six rebounds — for a three-point play with 3:11 left to put Nebraska ahead 46-41.
After the Gophers tied it at 46 with 2:21 to play, Ubel darted past Minnesota center Elliott Eliason for another three-point play with 2:08 to go.
That was one of the few plays the sophomore from Chadron, Neb., would like back. Eliason finished with seven points, four rebounds and three blocks. He also showed he had respect by drawing boos from the time he entered the game.
Ubel drained four free throws in the final 13.7 seconds and grabbed two rebounds, while Almeida also snared another clutch rebound late to hold off Minnesota (20-10, 8-9), which had splattered the Huskers by 19 points a month ago.
“Nebraska was very physical,” UM coach Tubby Smith said. “Almeida was outstanding, very physical. We had no answer for him.
“They outplayed us, outcoached us and outworked us. They seemed to want it more.”
Minnesota was quite aware that it was Senior Night and Close the Devaney Night. Smith said he hoped it wouldn't affect his team.
“But it must have,” he said. “We were horrible.”
The Gophers got into the one-and-one with 10:23 to go in the second half, but couldn't take advantage. They made only 10 of 20 free throws. Nebraska's 16 of 20 from the line was the difference on a night in which neither team shot better than 38 percent from the field.
Miles said the game ball will go to the trophy case in honor of all three seniors.
“We're going to paint this ball 'Last Game in Devaney,' and put those guys' names on it because they deserve it,” he said. “All three of those guys were special for us. It's a pretty cool group who has bought in.”
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