It seems that each season, the Nebraska men’s basketball team has a knack for doing the unpredictable.
Flashback to the 2010-11 season.
The Huskers were still in the Big 12 and were in a conference filled with ranked foes. They went out with a bang, defeating No. 13 Texas A&M 57-48, No. 2 Texas 70-67 and No. 24 Missouri 69-58.
Two years later in the final regular season game at the Bob Devaney Sports Center, Nebraska defeated Minnesota, 53-51.
Each upset came on the Huskers’ home floor, and each resulted with the student section storming the court.
Nebraska has had flare for the dramatics, which is why its 68-62 win Monday against No. 17 Ohio State in front of 15,342 fans shouldn’t have come as a surprise, according to coach Tim Miles.
“I’ve been 0-16. I’ve lost a lot worse than this,” he said after the game. “I don’t worry about this team unraveling.”
But if a poll were taken on which team most fans and college basketball aficionados thought would snap its losing streak first, the outcome would’ve the team from Columbus, Ohio.
Just look at their first five meetings since Nebraska joined the Big Ten Conference in 2011.
In only one of their previous matchups the Huskers have lost by less than double-digits, which came Feb. 2, 2013, at home, 63-56. In the four others, the Buckeyes clobbered Nebraska 71-40 (Jan. 3, 2012), 79-45 (Jan. 21, 2012) under Doc Sadler, then 70-44 (Jan. 2, 2013) and 84-53 (Jan. 4) when Miles took the helm.
That’s four times Nebraska received 26-or-more-point beat-downs by Thad Matta’s squads. The Buckeyes didn’t just beat Nebraska; they proved to be much higher competition for the former Big 12 school.
Then came Monday.
It was only 4:30 p.m., and the Huskers could already feel the energy from their classmates, sophomore guard Terran Petteway said.
“When we were warming up with 90 minutes left, almost the whole student section was filled,” he said. “Once I saw that, I knew it was going to be a good night.”
And the first-year Husker’s preconceived notions were proven accurate.
Four hours later, the Pinnacle Bank Arena’s buzzer went off indicating that the Buckeyes’ chances of a comeback were now inaccessible. For the first time as a coach at Ohio State, Matta experienced what a loss in Lincoln felt like.
“It was an electric environment,” Matta said. “We see that wherever we go, and without a doubt, this is one of the best.”
Petteway and co-captain sophomore guard Shavon Shields finished with a game-high 18 points to lead the Huskers to their first conference victory on the season, and first Nebraska win against Ohio State since 1985.
Those same fans who filled the student section an hour and a half before tipoff to watch them warm-up for a tough matchup were now rejoicing with them at midcourt.
Celebrating with the fans was an exhausting experience for Petteway, but well worth it.
“That never happened to me before,” he said. “I was just so tired from jumping up and down. I played a whole game and wasn’t tired, but when I was doing that, I was like, ‘I got to get out of here. This is too tiring.’”
Although the Huskers’ two captains may have combined for 53 percent of their points, Petteway’s ball-handling wasn’t something to praise, as he also led all players with 8 turnovers.
But like the old sports adage, regardless of whether the outcome is a win or loss, there’s no “I” in “team.” Nebraska’s ninth victory was brought on by a team effort.
When they needed it the most, the Huskers came through in the clutch. They played with poise. They played with finesse.
Shields said it best after the game. The 10 Huskers who hit the court Monday night “played as a team and put a full 40 minutes together, finally.”
Nebraska wouldn’t have won its first game in 30 days if Shields didn’t score 10 points in the first half and nail his first 3-pointer in four games. The team wouldn’t have won its first game against a ranked opponent in 15 tries if Petteway didn’t score 13 of his 18 total points in the second half.
Or if freshman guard Tai Webster, who converted just 58 percent of his free-throw attempts prior to Monday, didn’t sink all four of his charity shots in the game’s final three minutes.
Or if the entire team didn’t sink in 20 of their 26 free-throw attempts.
Or without forward Leslee Smith’s 3 steals, guard Deverell Biggs’ game-high 3 assists and 11 points off the bench and forward David Rivers’ 4 points and 2 rebounds. All are juniors who contributed off the bench.
For the first time in more than a month, this team played the way Tim Miles has been trying to get them to: Nebraska basketball.