A few minutes into today's Nebraska basketball game against Rutgers, I was afraid of the Scarlet Knights' offense. Really, really scared. I had watched them pour in threes during their pre-game shootaround, and was afraid they'd keep dumping those shots in once the game started. For a little while, they did. Nebraska looked a little bit helpless, actually. In the meantime, only two referees had taken the court, so the day looked like it was going to be a disaster.
But after a while, something started working, and the Huskers went on a 24-6 run to finish the first half. They had to; something had to happen for the Huskers to stay perfect at home. As they mounted this rally, all of Nebraska's players worked together in a way that surprised most of us in the Red Zone.
Example: Aleks Maric typically gets the ball inside, and no matter how many guys are on him, he'll try to force a shot. But the more time goes on this season, the more he's willing to kick the ball back out to a teammate on the perimeter rather than force a layup that will ultimately fail. It's fantastic, and it results in Husker wins.
During that run, the Devany Center became electric. Before the game, it seemed like the fans, even those in the Red Zone, were not in Game Day Mode. We didn't do our usual chants during the announcing of the Rutgers lineup. We only clapped weakly when the band played our fight song. But once the Huskers started battling back from a 15-8 deficit, the fans started noticing that this was turning in to a really good game. Gone were everyone's concerns about their upcoming final exams, and the hatred of the bitter cold outside. Funny how basketball can do that.
The Husker defense started to stick better than ever, and Rutgers struggled to even get a shot off on some possessions. I can't even remember the last time before today that Nebraska forced a shot clock violation. It was grand when it happened today, though. Sek Henry only contributed two points today, but they were my favorite two points of the entire game. In the height of the pre-halftime rally, Sek grabbed the ball away from a Rutgers player, stormed all the way down the court, and capped it with a dunk. That dunk took the crowd from "excited" to "elated."
But then...halftime. Halftime stopped the Huskers in their tracks, and had the same effect on the fans. The first few minutes of the 2nd half looked a lot like the opening minutes of the game; Nebraska gave up some really dumb turnovers and for a brief moment it looked like the lead we had taken in to halftime was slipping away. Fortunately the team woke back up, and came away victorious. In fact, fans were so assured of victory that people had already put coats, hats, mittens, and scarves on before the game hit its final minute -- a strange occurrence for Husker sports.
Regardless of how sloppy things started out, and how prematurely fans got ready to leave the Devany Center, the result was a Nebraska win, and a still-perfect home record. This was a lovely non-conference win, and much needed after Wednesday's disastrous overtime loss at Western Kentucky. The sentiment among most fans I know is that if Nebraska can beat Oregon next Saturday, the nation will finally see the Huskers in the NCAA tournament. Yes, Nebraska men's basketball. Yes, that tournament. If it is ever going to happen, this is the year.
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