CHARLESTON, S.C. — The seeds for Nebraska’s 73-65 men’s basketball victory against Georgia on Sunday for seventh place in the Charleston Classic were sown late Friday night.
Coach Tim Miles called a meeting. His original plan was to blast his team for a putrid second-half performance in a loss to UAB in which the Huskers were scored on in 29 of 35 possessions.
Instead, Miles opened the floor. Leslee Smith — all 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds of him — stood up to talk. Four separate times.
And people listened.
“We had to get some things cleared up and out of the way,” said the junior forward from the British Virgin Islands. “I had a lot to say. I’ve been at a few other schools and been through meetings like this before.”
They weren’t complicated: pass the ball to the open man; help on defense when the ball gets into the lane; and stick to the game plan whether ahead or behind.
“When teams do meetings like that, they usually have so much on their minds,” Smith said. “When you get that off your chest, you really come together.”
Smith put his words into action against Georgia (1-4).
In 25 minutes off the bench, he had eight points, 11 rebounds, two blocks and an assist. When Nebraska switched to a 2-3 zone midway through the second half, Smith anchored a defense that gave up five baskets in an 11-minute stretch as the Huskers pulled away from a 52-52 tie.
“He really had an extra hop in his step,” Miles said.
So did some other Huskers. Struggling point guard Tai Webster exploded for 13 of his 14 points in the second half. Forward Terran Petteway had 15 points and seven rebounds, and forward Walter Pitchford 12 points and two steals.
Nebraska (4-2) led 34-31 at half, fell behind 51-48, then pulled away from there as Webster and Pitchford combined for 13 points in the final 8:46.
For Smith, his performance in combination with collecting 12 points and 10 rebounds against Massachusetts in the first round normally would get him starting lineup consideration.
But that’s not going to happen, at the 23-year-old’s request.
“He told me, ‘I think it’s good for me to come off the bench,’ ” Miles said. “That takes maturity and selflessness to do that. Leslee is all about winning.”
Nebraska’s starting lineup did change Sunday as sophomore Benny Parker opened at point guard in what Miles said was a needed change of pace for Webster.
“Tai and I met,” Miles said. “There are growing pains and a process to go through. The idea was that Benny had played the best on-ball defense and we were going to see a really good guard, so we wanted to start with a defensive tone.”
Webster entered four minutes in, wobbled some in the first half, then caught fire after halftime going 3 of 5 from the field, 6 of 7 from the line and adding two assists.
“The boys were moving a lot more, and it’s easier to play off them when there is a lot of movement,” Webster said. “We were getting out in transition, and we played better defense. (Georgia) would miss a shot or turn it over, and we’d take off.
“It’s easy to play when it’s like that, and a lot of fun.”
Also, long plane rides home are more fun when you finish with a win and have six days until the next game — Saturday at Pinnacle Bank Arena against Northern Illinois.
“It’s good to get a win and experience a high again with the team,” Webster said. “We played a good game.”