LINCOLN — Nebraska basketball coach Tim Miles expected a close game Tuesday night against Jacksonville State, but not in the way it played out.
“Christmas came early to the Devaney,” Miles said with a shake of his head after watching the Huskers blow all but one point of a 15-point lead in the final seven minutes before winning 59-55.
NU (7-3) broke its two-game skid only after JSU’s Brian Williams darted down the lane and missed a wide-open layup that would have tied the game with seven seconds to play.
Nebraska, after a sluggish opening to the game, scored the final 12 points of the first half to go to the locker room up 29-22. Early in the second half, the Huskers scored on nine of 13 possessions to up their lead to 48-35 at the eight-minute media timeout.
Miles gathered his team during that break and told them, “Here’s how you win the game.”
“From the under-eight timeout to the under-four, extend the lead,” he said. “Just play your butt off, play defense, handle the ball well and be on the attack.
“We did completely the opposite. It’s so disappointing. We were fortunate. We just plain got lucky.”
NU tried to grow the lead. Two free throws from Dylan Talley put Nebraska ahead 50-35 with seven minutes left.
Then the Huskers committed a cardinal sin of basketball — fouling while leading. You never want the opponent to cut the lead with the clock stopped.
But Jacksonville State (8-3) scored nine straight points on free throws and used a layup from guard Darion Rackley to close to 54-48 with 2:23 left. Rackley led all scorers with 17 points.
Why did the clutching and grabbing start with a double-digit lead?
“I thought we were tired,” Miles said. “We talked about going zone. We should have. I would have put the guys in a more favorable position. But I didn’t. I wanted them to have to earn victory.”
Instead, what was left of the crowd of 5,481 murmured as Jacksonville State closed to 56-55 on Ronnie Boggs’ 3-pointer with 23 seconds left. JSU fouled NU’s Ray Gallegos, who made 1 of 2 free throws with 20 seconds left.
On the next possession, the Gamecocks sprung Williams free down the lane. But his layup try over the front of the rim popped out.
JSU coach James Green said he wanted a 3-point attempt to try to win the game.
“But you can’t get mad about the drive,” Green said. “He had a lane. His momentum carried him too far and he laid it off the back of the rim.”
Had Nebraska’s offense functioned better, the game wouldn’t have been close.
The Huskers, coming off games of 42 and 38 points, did shoot 45.7 percent but made only two field goals in the final 8:57. They also had a scoreless spell in the first half that lasted 6:16.
“I’m not pleased with our offense,” Miles said. “We got to the foul line more, but then we stopped. We didn’t make a 3.”
Nebraska last won a game without a 3-pointer in 1998 against Baylor. And shooting only five Tuesday wasn’t by design.
“I don’t say anything,” Miles said, “but I’ve got to start saying something. You don’t get 3s because you aren’t penetrating and pitching and you aren’t on the attack.
“I wanted to get it (inside) more, and I thought we did get it in more. There were times it was good, and there were times it looked like a circus.”
One offensive bright spot for Nebraska was wing Shavon Shields. The true freshman scored 14 points, matching his total from his other four games combined. He scored seven straight points in one stretch midway through the second half.
With his teammates being hounded defensively, Shields said, “it opened up cuts and lanes for me. They helped me out a lot.”
Nebraska got 15 points and 10 rebounds from senior forward Brandon Ubel, who like Miles expressed thanks for escaping with a win.
“I thought we kind of stopped playing,” Ubel said. “We looked up at the scoreboard and felt too comfortable. Jacksonville State kept playing. They played for 40 minutes and we played for 32.”
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