LINCOLN — Finally for Nebraska, it was the other team that couldn’t shoot straight.
The Husker men produced their best defensive effort of the season — holding Northwestern to 32.1 percent from the field — and got 40 second-half points out of their struggling offense to pull away for a 64-49 win Saturday over Northwestern.
The victory was NU’s first at home in the Big Ten and the first against anyone at the Devaney Center since four days after Christmas. The 40 points in a half were the most since three days before Christmas.
Nebraska point guard Dylan Talley was happy to give the home crowd of 8,874 something to cheer.
“We want the fans to leave with a smile on their face,” he said. “They could have stayed at home after we came out flat the last two home games. They had every reason not to come out. But they still came out, and we were able to get a win.”
Talley had as much to do with Nebraska (11-10, 2-6) moving two games out of the Big Ten cellar as anyone.
He scored a team-high 20 points, snagged eight rebounds and held Northwestern leading scorer Reggie Hearn to six points — 8.4 less than his average — on 2-of-11 shooting.
“It hasn’t hit me yet,” Talley said. “People keep telling me how good a game I played. I was just happy we got our first home win in the Big Ten.”
Husker coach Tim Miles didn’t need more time to process the impact of Talley’s play.
“Dylan played really well on both ends of the floor,” the coach said. “Offensively, he got us into our stuff, and I thought he facilitated pretty nicely and made some shots.”
Miles praised Talley for his individual work on Hearn, plus helping coordinate the effort against Northwestern’s Princeton-style offense.
“We were in a position to guard their options,” Miles said. “Toward the end, we kind of made them one-dimensional. They shot almost 30 3s. And that was fine. You have to win the paint against Princeton (offense) teams. Tonight, it was 30-22, we won it.”
Talley’s good day also included some time as team psychologist.
Teammate Ray Gallegos entered the game shooting 21.9 percent (14 of 64) on 3-pointers in Big Ten play. After Gallegos went scoreless in the first half as Nebraska clung to a 24-22 lead, Talley and fellow senior Brandon Ubel — who had 14 points and 12 rebounds — cornered Gallegos and ordered him to keep firing.
When Northwestern switched from man-to-man defense to a 1-3-1 zone early in the second half, Gallegos rattled in three straight 3-pointers to increase Nebraska’s lead from 35-31 to 44-33 with 9:49 to go.
“My first half was pretty quiet,” Gallegos said. “My teammates encouraged me to stay confident.”
Gallegos spent 30 minutes after practice Friday hoisting extra shots. He came back Saturday and shot some more from 7:15 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.
It paid off when Northwestern’s zone gave Gallegos more room to shoot than he’s had in weeks.
The irony is Northwestern’s defensive switch to the trapping half-court zone was designed to try to pump some life into the Wildcats’ lethargic offense instead of kick-starting Nebraska’s attack.
“Our offense was so bad — or their defense was so good — that I wanted to do it to generate some offense,” coach Bill Carmody said. “We wanted to see if we could get something easy, but it was a struggle all night.”
In the first half, when Northwestern switched to the zone in the final five minutes, Nebraska also canned three straight 3s to increase a 15-14 lead to 24-17. All six NU 3-pointers in 18 tries came against the zone.
“I don’t mind zone,” Miles said. “It gives us different looks — looks we can make.”
Northwestern’s man-to-man defense held Nebraska to 1 of 11 field goals to start the game, but the Wildcats built only a 10-5 lead.
“I thought we needed to capitalize more on the beginning of the game,” Carmody said. “Nebraska did a great job defensively. They’ve been a pretty good defensive team all year.
“If they get their offense going, they can be a competitive squad.”
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