IOWA CITY — Nebraska held No. 22 Iowa, the fifth-highest scoring team in the country, 21 points under its 88.7 average in Tuesday night’s Big Ten men’s basketball opener for both schools.
Nebraska, last in the Big Ten in rebounding, became only the third team this season to outboard Iowa, which is second in the league in that category.
Nebraska also shot better from the free-throw line and 3-point range than Iowa.
So how did the Huskers fall behind by 20 points with 8:14 left and eventually lose 67-57 at sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena?
By missing what the official play-by-play sheet showed were 15 layups, tip-ins or dunks. NU shot a season-low 29.9 percent from the field.
“I thought we really played pretty well,” said Nebraska coach Tim Miles, who substituted his usual jovial postgame demeanor for some genuine frustration.
“I didn’t think the score was indicative at all of how well we had played. We just missed too many inside shots. But you’ve got to credit Iowa. They are really good, and really good here, especially.”
Reasons why Nebraska missed so many shots close to the basket are hard to find.
“I don’t know,” Miles said. “I don’t know. I just ... I don’t know why. Like I told the guys, it’s going to make us sick watching that tape.”
Husker wing Terran Petteway said the queasiness over a missed opportunity was immediate.
“It made me sick during the game,” said Petteway, who led all scorers with 20 points and grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds. “We missed, I think, 10 layups. That’s 20 points we could have used.
“We were missing easy ones that were running in and out. It’s like that sometimes.”
That’s not the end of the quirky statistics in this game.
Iowa, up 30-23 at halftime, burst to a 55-35 lead with 8:14 left when forward Aaron White stole a pass from NU guard Tai Webster near midcourt and monster-jammed it.
For the Hawkeyes (12-2, 1-0), it was their last field goal of the game. The remaining 12 points came on free throws.
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Meanwhile, Nebraska rallied to cut the deficit to five points at 60-55 with 1:45 left, with guard Deverell Biggs as the sparkplug.
The junior out of Omaha Central, who sat out the previous game at Cincinnati for disciplinary reasons, finished with 12 points, four rebounds and two steals in 20 minutes while driving to the basket almost at will and gumming up Iowa’s offense with strong on-ball pressure.
“From talking to the coaches,” Biggs said, “I needed to prove to them I can play defense. That’s why I haven’t been playing as much as I want to.
“I pressured more. (Miles) wanted me to. He kept encouraging me. So, props to Coach. Without him, I wouldn’t have been so good at it.”
Biggs, who also was a central figure in a 13-1 Nebraska run in the first half, entered the game just after Iowa broke ahead by 20.
“Coach got in the huddle and said, ‘What are you going to do?’ ” Biggs said. “ ‘Are you going to lay down and let them bulldoze all over you or are you going to make a statement?’ He fired us up.”
Biggs, in five straight possessions after Iowa was up 20, produced two baskets and drew two act-of-shooting fouls, making 3 of 4 free throws.
Later, after Petteway converted a three-point play, Biggs a free throw and Petteway a layup on consecutive possessions, the Nebraska deficit was down to 60-55 with 1:45 to play.
The Huskers (8-5, 0-1) couldn’t get closer as Iowa — 22 of 39 overall on free throws — hit 7 of 10 in the final 1:06.
It took Iowa coach Fran McCaffery half an hour to come to the interview room after absorbing an up-and-down performance. The one constant was the defense holding NU to 57 points.
“That’s why we won,” he said. “We didn’t win because of our rebounding. We didn’t win because of our 3-point shooting. We won because of our defense.”
A strong start to the second half helped, too.
Nebraska, after going 0 of 8 to finish the first half, could only hit 2 of 9 shots to open the second. Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes got a six-point surge from center Adam Woodbury and a seven-point burst from forward Jarrod Uthoff to build the lead to 20.
Iowa’s only double-figure scorers were guard Roy Devyn Marble with 15 and White with 13 — 11 of which came in the final 6:18 of the first half.
Though the victory was far from stylish, McCaffery had few complaints.
“You watched the Big Ten today,” he said. “It’s just brutal. We didn’t play a perfect game, but we played well enough to win. You just put it behind you because we’ve got 17 more.”