LINCOLN — It took the Nebraska men's basketball team until halftime Saturday night to remember that one of coach Tim Miles' favorite sayings is “like the 3-pointer, but love the rim.”
Even then, moving the offense inside instead of shooting from long range came just soon enough to avert a major upset to 24-point underdog The Citadel.
NU trailed with less than 12 minutes to play and led by only three inside eight minutes before closing out a 77-62 win in front of a lively crowd of 14,189 at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
The fans had more juice much of the night than the Huskers (8-3).
“(The Citadel) came out very aggressive,” said Nebraska wing Terran Petteway, who led all scorers with 27 points. “They were prepared to play us. We came out flat, and they didn't. They were the aggressor the first half.”
A big reason for that was Nebraska shot nearly as many 3-pointers in the first half (11) as 2-pointers (13) against the Bulldogs' multiple zone defenses.
The result was a 32-32 halftime tie against a 4-9 team that has a loss to Division II West Alabama and only one Division I win. The Huskers needed Petteway's 25-foot twisting fadeaway bomb with two seconds left to knot it.
“It might have looked weird,” he said. “But it felt good.”
The good feelings stopped, though, once inside the halftime locker room because Miles wanted a different look.
“Love the rim came out of my mouth at halftime, and there were a few expletives included, unfortunately,” he said. “I apologize, Mom. We always go to confession before Christmas so I'll be fine.”
At least the Huskers listened.
Ten of the first 11 shots in the second half came inside the lane, resulting in six baskets and eight free-throw attempts as NU crept ahead 48-45.
But 75 seconds later, The Citadel's Quinton Marshall slam-dunked a lob pass for a 49-48 lead with 12 minutes to play.
“We started out pretty good,” Miles said. “And then they came back again because we had given them so much confidence. But I was happy we were able to finish the job.”
Miles wasn't sure how things might turn out when Nebraska trailed 29-21 with 3:27 to go in the first half.
“We're out there like the Bad News Bears,” he said. “We've got two guys running into each other and the ball falls out of our hands and they get a layup. Not once. Not twice. Like three times.”
Miles admitted he worried about entering halftime behind by double digits. But Petteway righted things for Nebraska at multiple points in the game.
When the Huskers were down 13-8, he scored the next seven points. When they were down 29-21 late in the half, he scored seven points in two minutes to help force the halftime tie.
And after The Citadel had taken its 49-48 lead in the second half, Petteway made 1 of 2 free throws for a tie, then stripped an offensive rebound from an opponent and dashed coast to coast for a dunk and a 53-51 Nebraska lead with 10:26 to play. The Huskers never trailed again.
Despite the uncomfortable periods against a struggling opponent, Miles saw good in the game.
“It wasn't a lost day,” he said. “It was a meaningful day, in terms of a learning experience.”
Besides Petteway's 27 points, Nebraska got 17 from forward Shavon Shields and 10 points and 10 rebounds from forward Leslee Smith.
The Citadel coach Chuck Driesell praised his team for its best effort of the season.
“We broke down in the second half,” he said. “Some of it was fatigue and some of it obviously was Nebraska. They are a big basketball team.
“I don't know if we got a good whistle or not. They shot 34 free throws and we shot 14, so you do the math. We play in the Southern Conference and they play in the Big Ten. But I am proud of our guys.”