For 29 minutes, everything went right at Nebraska’s first scrimmage of the year.
The night started at 6:55 p.m., when the lights at Pinnacle Bank arena went out for the first time to introduce a basketball game. The smell of nachos hung over the court, and the sound of rustling pom-poms rang in-between masses of people shouting “Husker” and “Power.”
At 6:59 p.m., the Huskers emerged, sporting their new red warm-ups and clean red and white jerseys.
From the shadows, coach Tim Miles emerged as well, holding a microphone.
“How ‘bout this place, eh?” Miles said, motioning to the crowd, now on their feet making noise over the new arena.
One by one the players took the microphone and passed it along the line, introducing themselves to the crowd for the first time.
“Kye Kurkowski, Grant, Nebraska.”
“Hey Husker Nation, Walter Pitchford.”
Miles stood in the dark as the spotlight shined on his players. Hands crossed, feet slightly adjacent, it was clear things were going his way from the proud smile on his face.
Twenty-one minutes later, that smile would fade.
The men’s team split off into two teams, Red and White, and began its first scrimmage. The White team held a 6-2 lead after freshman Nathan Hawkins hit a three in the left corner. Senior Ray Gallegos answered with a three on the next possession.
“Lots of threes out here tonight,” Miles said into the microphone to the crowd. “Kind of like my high school days. Lots of threes, no ‘D.’”
A smile drew across the player’s faces as they held back laughter.
The teams went back and forth, each taking guarded threes, trying for dunks, doing what they could to give the fans a show. Miles, roaming the sideline and crowd, gave live commentary. At one point he found his father.
“Hello, I taught this guy everything he knows,” he said.
The teams were tied 12-12 when junior college transfer Deverell Biggs brought the ball up court on the right side.
“Hey, Walt,” said Biggs, the White team’s point guard, motioning to teammate Pitchford with a head-nod.
The 6-foot-10 sophomore turned around and set a screen for Biggs, who quickly came off the ball, waited a beat and threw an alley-oop to Pitchford after he rolled off the screen. Pitchford dunked the ball with emphasis, and “oohs” and “ahs” rang from the crowd as Biggs and Pitchford celebrated.
But behind them, sophomore Shavon Shields snagged the ball on the inbounds pass and bolts down the court behind them.
Out of instinct, Pitchford turned and took off after Shields.
Sheilds saw Pitchford coming and rose anyway, ball in his right hand, left arm out for protection. Pitchford flew in the air with him, right arm swinging for the ball. They collided. Shields lost the ball, falling hard to the floor and landing on his right hip.
More “oohs” more “ahs,” but the opposite kind. Then the arena with approximately 7,500 people went silent as Shields lay motionless on the ground.
“Well, that’s not what I wanted,” Miles said, sitting at the edge of his seat on the bench.
One minute passed, and Shields was still on the floor, just right of the basket. It’s clear it was more than just a fall.
Pitchford walked toward mid-court, head down, deflecting looks of “what-was-that” from Gallegos and sophomore guard Benny Parker.
Three minutes. Still nothing from Shields.
His legs began to shake, bobbing up and down, clearly from pain.
Miles and teammates surrounded Shields as he finally stood up, his face squinting in agony.
He walked on his own, favoring his right leg.
“Ladies and gentleman, Shavon Shields!” the announcer said.
Amid the applause, the players set up for free throws, which were taken by a substitute.
As the first shot hung in the air, Biggs walked by Parker mid-court.
“Damn,” he said.
Parker nodded. In the foreground, Shields took off his jersey in frustration as he limped into the locker room.
Pitchford would go on to receive more cheers by winning the dunk contest at halftime, which also included a 3-point competition won by Gallegos. The Red team would hang on for a 39-37 victory, thanks to freshman Tai Webster’s game-winning jumper.
But all that was overshadowed by one thing: the absence of Shields on the court the rest of the evening.