LINCOLN — You could point to Nebraska’s missed free throws in the final seconds of Sunday’s 82-78 loss to Indiana.
Or the Hoosiers’ 12-for-15 shooting from the line in the final quarter.
Or the two big 3s Indiana hit after the Huskers pulled even with 4 ½ minutes to go.
But to Nebraska, the real problem was the 12-point hole it fell into late in the third quarter — and the defensive breakdowns the Huskers say put them there.
“We played well down the stretch,” Nebraska senior forward Maddie Simon said. “It’s hard when you get yourself in that hole.”
The loss, which dropped the Huskers to 10-12 overall and 5-6 in the Big Ten, was their eighth in 10 games this season decided by six points or fewer. Five of those losses have come against Big Ten opponents since Jan. 3.
This one was particularly galling to coach Amy Williams because it followed her team’s best game, a 20-point road victory Thursday against a good Purdue team.
You’d like to think you could bottle the winning formula from that game, Williams said.
Sign up for Big Red Today news alerts
Get a daily Husker news roundup, recruiting updates and breaking news in your inbox.
“But then we bounce out here today and have kind of a lull at the end of the second quarter and into the third quarter,” she said. “We didn’t bottle it very well.”
The Hoosiers (17-6, 6-5) hit 21 of 34 shots in the middle two quarters after going 4 for 16 in the opening period and falling behind 17-12.
The Husker defense faltered without junior forward Nicea Eliely, their wing stopper, who played just six of the middle 20 minutes after picking up two fouls in the first quarter and another early in the third.
The Hoosiers attacked effectively after setting ball screens, Williams said, and the Huskers didn’t do a good job defending them. That contributed to a big day for Indiana senior forward Kym Royster. She finished with 19 points and 14 rebounds, including six on offense, to help the Hoosiers beat the taller Huskers 37-36 on the boards.
Nebraska fought back behind Simon, who scored all 12 of her points in the second half, and freshman guard Sam Haiby, who scored 13 of her 17 after halftime.
It was the highest point total since Dec. 31 for Simon, who has lost her starting job and has struggled much of her senior season.
“We were just excited to see her play with confidence down the stretch and get herself to the free-throw line, where she can really be good for us,” Williams said.
Simon’s 3 tied the game 65-65 with 5:42 left, and Haiby tied it again 68-68 on two free throws with 4:23 to go.
But the Hoosiers responded with 3s by guards Ali Patberg (22 points) and Jaelynn Penn (20).
Haiby narrowed the gap to 79-78 by drilling two free throws with 27 seconds left.
But Patberg went 2 for 2 on the other end, and NU point guard Hannah Whitish (16 points) missed two with 9.8 seconds to go.
It added up to a key road win for the Hoosiers, coach Teri Moren said. Any Big Ten road victory is big, she said, but this one was especially sweet coming in front of a Pinnacle Bank Arena crowd of 3,893 on Super Bowl Sunday.
“Their crowd support is just tremendous for women’s basketball,” Moren said. “I have to take my hat off to the fans. They have the energy they bring their players that is second to none.”
Indiana (17-6, 6-5)................12 24 24 22—82
At Nebraska (10-12, 5-6).......17 15 23 23—78
IU: Kym Royster 7-8 5-6 19, Brenna Wise 1-6 1-1 4, Bendu Yeaney 0-8 1-2 1, Jaelynn Penn 7-15 5-5 20, Ali Patberg 8-12 4-5 22, Aleksa Gulbe 3-4 0-0 7, Grace Berger 3-10 2-2 9, Keyanna Warthen 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-63 18-21 82.
NU: Kayla Mershon 1-3 0-0 2, Kate Cain 4-9 1-2 9, Hannah Whitish 6-12 1-4 16, Nicea Eliely 2-5 3-3 7, Taylor Kissinger 4-11 0-0 8, Sam Haiby 5-8 7-8 17, Ashtyn Verbeek 1-3 3-4 5, Maddie Simon 3-7 5-6 12, Leigha Brown 0-2 0-0 0, Grace Mitchell 1-1 0-2 2. Totals 27-61 20-29 78.
3-point shooting: IU 6-18 (Patberg 2-3, Gulbe 1-2, Wise 1-3, Berger 1-3, Penn 1-5, Yeaney 0-2), NU 4-22 (Whitish 3-6, Simon 1-4, Verbeek 0-1, Brown 0-1, Mershon 0-2, Eliely 0-3, Kissinger 0-5). Rebounds: IU 37 (Royster 14), NU 36 (Simon 7). Assists: IU 15 (Yeaney, Patberg 6), NU 11 (Whitish, Cain, Kissinger, Mershon 2). Total fouls: IU 24, NU 20. Fouled out: Penn, Gulbe. Technical fouls: none. Turnovers: IU 12, NU 13. A: 3,893.