LINCOLN — Nebraska had just about shaken off Southern — a pesky 18-point underdog wearing similar canary yellow jerseys as spoiler UC Riverside from an earlier game.
Freshman Yvan Ouedroago took out a half of frustration on a dunk that shook the shot clock and Pinnacle Bank Arena for an 84-82 Husker lead in overtime.
After a Jaguar shot clock violation, Cam Mack walked the ball up, drove toward the 3-point line and then crossed over Lamarcus Lee, who toppled over himself onto the floor. After Mack pointed at his victim amid a chorus of laughs, he drove the lane and kicked a pass out to Jervay Green in the corner.
“That’s a bucket,” Green said to himself as he let go of Nebraska’s 12th and final 3-point basket of the night. It gave NU just enough wiggle room to avoid its third loss of the season.
It would end up 93-86.
Disaster — this time — avoided.
“Felt great,” Green said with a smile.
NU was outrebounded by Southern 54-28. The Huskers missed 18 free throws, shooting 19 for 37, and failed, time and again, to stop Micah Bradford, who scored 31 points on 20 shots.
But for this team amid construction, the point of Friday was, they sustained the storm behind a season-high 22 from Green and a 57% team shooting night.
“I thought compared to where we were a couple weeks ago, where we lost a game like this by 20, to be able to rebound and bounce back — well, not rebound — but to be able to find a way to bounce back and win a game like this when adversity smacked us in the face,” coach Fred Hoiberg said, “we responded so much better this time around.”
Nebraska led by as many as 13 in the first half thanks to seven 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes. But a 15-1 Southern run late in the second half cut that to two by halftime.
Southern then made seven of its first eight shots of the second to take a 59-51 lead. The Jags turned 25 offensive rebounds into 16 second chance points and allowed only four Nebraska offensive rebounds.
“I thought they were more physical than us,” Hoiberg said.
“I’ll tell you what, our team is growing,” Southern coach Sean Woods said. “We grew tonight. We didn’t finish the course, but with 13 new players, coming into a hostile environment, we got better today.”
Nebraska was saved with back-to-back 3-pointers from Thorir Thorbjarnarson, both directly in front of NU’s bench, and the Huskers were back in it down one with 12:05 left.
Thorbjarnarson finished with just seven points, but Nebraska was plus-18 with him on the floor. He played in starter Dachon Burke’s place the final 18:46 of the game.
The score in the final 12 minutes of regulation ping-ponged. Nebraska either made a 3 or missed a free throw, and Southern leaned on Bradford. With the score tied at 80 with less than 30 seconds left, Green stopped switching off Bradford and Southern botched two attempts to win.
In overtime, Ouedroaogo unleashed, scoring six of his 11 points in the opening three minutes.
“I was on the bench almost all of the second half,” he said, “so I was like ‘If I’m going on the court, I’m going to go crazy.’ ”
After the Green 3, the smiles Hoiberg spoke about at practice on Thursday popped all over NU’s bench.
And not because a win over Southern is some program-defining moment. But because for a team that admits it doesn’t deal well with difficult situations, for the first time this season, it actually did.
You don’t win many games giving up 25 offensive rebounds and missing 18 free throws. Somehow, NU pulled that off.
“The team responded beautifully,” Green said. “We got in the huddles and there was no complaining, no nothing. We were just lifting each other up.”
That’s not nothing.
“Tonight they were engaged, they kept fighting, they kept battling. And that’s growth,” Hoiberg said. “That’s growth for our group.”