LINCOLN — Nebraska headed off more questions about its offensive prowess by scoring 50 points in the first 20 minutes of Saturday's 79-67 men's basketball victory over Arkansas State.
That was NU's biggest first-half point total in five years, and led to an easier-than-expected win over a veteran opponent on a three-game winning streak.
Some doubt about the Huskers putting the ball in the basket arose six days earlier when they fell behind Creighton 38-8 in an eventual 15-point loss. The idea of having to relive that many more times didn't appeal to coach Tim Miles.
“You don't want to go have this crisis of confidence like, 'Oh, no, what happened to our offense?' ” he said.
So how did the Huskers (7-3) fix it?
First, with strong workouts, something missing ahead of the Creighton game.
“We practiced really well all week,” Miles said. “Our ball movement was good and our practices were sharp.”
Second, by taking those practice moments onto the floor at Pinnacle Bank Arena in front of 11,048 fans.
“A lot of different things happened,” Miles said, “whether it be transition or we made some 3s, good ball movement, a whole bunch of assists. That was good. We needed that.”
Arkansas State (5-3) scored the game's first basket, then Nebraska ran off 15 points in a row. ASU used two timeouts in the first 7Ĺ minutes, but it didn't matter. The Huskers soon followed with a 21-7 run to bolt to a 38-16 lead with 7:21 to go in the first half.
Seeing a stat sheet with 19 assists on 29 baskets literally brought thumbs up in the interview room from Huskers Shavon Shields and Walter Pitchford.
“We executed at the start really well, and that's what we had been working on,” said Shields, who had 15 points, five rebounds and three steals.
Pitchford, who added 12 points and 10 rebounds, said role definition and sharing the ball are improving weekly.
“Teams can't really guard us when we are moving the ball that fast at that speed,” he said. “Somebody is always open who can knock down shots. We've got shooters.”
Later, Pitchford added: “We're giving up a good shot for a great shot.” To which Shields replied: “Nice quote, Walt.”
Nebraska rode that ball movement to a 28-point lead at 63-35 with 14:42 left on a Shields' 3-pointer. What followed was the day's only downer for NU — seeing Arkansas State rally to within 14 points with 6:29 to go and 11 points with 1:18 left.
“Our intensity went down and we kind of lost what we were doing to get the lead,” Shields said. “That can't happen.”
Arkansas State's Kirk Van Slyke, a 6-foot-10 senior, scored 27 points on 11-of-15 shooting and added seven rebounds.
“He made me angry,” Miles said. “We thought we could play him one-on-one in the post, and obviously we couldn't.”
Nebraska did a better job defending ASU's Melvin Johnson III, the national leader in 3-point percentage (.643). Johnson finished with 18 points and hit 3 of 5 3-pointers. But 12 of his points and two of his 3s came in the final 9:32.
Arkansas State coach John Brady was disappointed in how his team responded after a long break in the schedule.
“It looked like we had a 12-day layoff the way we started,” he said. “We did not have any continuity offensively, and then defensively we had some problems. Nebraska made 3s early on and then continued to. That is not something they do characteristically. I guess we allowed them to get into a rhythm of play.”
The Huskers need to hit stride soon. After they host The Citadel (3-8) next Saturday, the following five games are at Cincinnati, at Iowa, at Ohio State, Michigan and at Purdue.
Those foes are a combined 40-9.
“There's a billion people that are going to pick us to go 0-5,” Miles said. “You can go to Europe and Asia and you'll be able to count to a billion and you'll look at the schedule and say, 'The Huskers aren't winning any of those.'
“We have to prove them wrong.”
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Video: Nebraska men beat Arkansas State