LINCOLN — Jamar Johnson, meet Dylan Talley.
The shot went up, from a step or two outside the top of the 3-point circle. When it went down, with 9.2 seconds left, I could have sworn I heard a sound from 1992.
It was just another Instamatic memory here at the Devaney Center, the house that a tobacco tax built, named for one of the greatest college football coaches in history.
The keepsakes in this old house of Husker Hoops have come in snapshots, shots frozen in time, upsets over visiting titans. The place wasn't blessed with many great teams or seasons (other than 1990-91). It's been a sanctuary for shots of electricity, moments of hope. Ah, misty, water-colored memories.
On my last day to watch basketball here, I got one more for the road. One good one.
Nebraska beat Iowa on Saturday 64-60. It was a 13-14 team knocking a neighbor likely out of the NCAA tournament. But it was more than that. Close your eyes and it was much more.
Johnson, the point guard from Elkhart, Ind., hit the most famous buzzer-beater in Devaney history (unless it was Beau Reid's dynamite shot to beat Kansas in 1988) from in front of the Husker bench on a February night in 1992.
This one was different, of course. The kids rushed the floor that night, swallowed the team whole like quicksand, after an electric win the Huskers had to have to make the NCAA tourney a second year, and show that 1991 wasn't a fluke.
But Talley's shot gave you that jolt, once more, with feeling. The Devaney Center was always good at those electric shocks that took your breath away.
Memories. The play before Talley's shot, there was forward Brandon Ubel stepping in front of a Roy Devyn Marble drive with less than a minute left for a charge that gave NU the ball and a 60-60 game. The scouting report told him he could get that charge. So did Ubel's instincts. It was a good play by the senior, a gutsy play, as well. The ref calls the block and Marble's going to the line.
Pardon me if I thought I saw a ghost. That was kinda, sorta like a gutsy hustle play by Bruce Chubick, who sprinted downcourt to block Alonzo Jamison's dunk at the buzzer of that 1992 KU game. A block at the buzzer to force overtime. My all-time favorite play in the Devaney's thin scrapbook of plays.
Again, not as dramatic. Not as meaningful. But just as functional, just as cool that a savvy defensive play set up the offensive heroics that brought down the house.
Excuse me if I let my imagination run wild here. Then again, was it coincidence that they showed a clip of the 1992 Kansas game, my favorite game here, on the video board on Saturday?
You bet, 1992 was KU, and this was Iowa. And you got it, that one was for higher stakes, Big Eight hierarchy and NCAA bracket stuff. But on that memorable night locked deep in the archives, the Big Red was motivated by pride, the fear of lost pride in the NIT.
These Huskers of Tim Miles are playing for that intangible thing, too. And the pride was all over this one, too.
Oh sure, we get that seismic shift once a year, it seems. Texas two years ago. Last winter, Indiana. The building hadn't had that moment this year, the most important year to have it. The last year.
We got that noise on Saturday, and it was a noise that underscored a feeling I've always had about this place: This place can get loud. It can be a very good place to watch basketball. But thanks to the teams, it never got the chance to reach that potential.
“The building does have a life to it, doesn't it?” said Miles, the first-year coach. “I heard the Iowa fans early, loud and clear. I was hoping they would get our fans going. And they did. Finally, we did, too.
“I've never seen any of those old films, but I've been told I need to go back and watch the Chubick play. I told our team, before the game, we have two more games left here, against regional opponents. Let's get them both. Let's go out the right way.”
It felt like a big game again at the Devaney Center on Saturday, and Iowa deserves the credit for that. There were a few thousand Hawkeye fans. They were loud. They found an amazing knack for finding good seats. As their young team found its legs and shots early, there were loud cheers for every Iowa basket. Welcome to Carver-Devaney Arena.
The Husker fans woke up when their team showed up, in the second half. And as the 16-point Hawkeye halftime lead dwindled, the Nebraska fans gained momentum. When the two fan groups started trading off, it was game on.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, that was a 15,” NU's Shavon Shields said.
The Nebraska-Iowa football series was supposed to be big fun, the thing that got the two states riled up. But it might just be the hoops thing, if Iowa and its fans can light a spark in the Huskers.
Iowa hasn't won an NCAA tournament game since 2001 (Creighton) and hasn't been to the tourney since 2006. But it says here this is a program Nebraska should pay attention to, should emulate, should try to catch.
Why? The Hawks care about basketball. Tell me the last time Nebraska fans traveled like this to an away game, and made themselves heard. Maybe to a K-State game in the 1990s. Otherwise, never.
Iowa has been to three Final Fours (the last one in 1980) and made it to the Elite Eight. The heritage, the expectation is different, but the geography isn't.
What's more, Iowa is close. The Hawks and Mike Gesell are young and full of talent, a nice team. But they can't figure out how to close, how to escape the final minute. It bit them again on Saturday, and this one may have been the costliest.
Still, the Hawks entered the day in seventh place in the Big Ten and squarely on the bubble. That's where Nebraska needs to get. Forget Indiana and Michigan State and Ohio State. If NU can get to sixth, seventh or eighth place in the Big Ten, that's the NCAA bubble. Get to that spot, and you have a chance.
The Huskers, 4-10 in the league, are only three wins behind sixth-place Illinois. Thanks to the Big Ten, NU's strength of schedule is 19th nationally. Thanks to the Big Ten, you're never far away.
“We don't have that far to go, in my eyes,” Miles said. “Creep, crawl, walk. Let's catch Iowa. Let's catch Minnesota.”
They looked close on Saturday. Then again, maybe it was just the Devaney Center, which has been known for providing that bolt of lightning, that spark of hope. One more time, maybe one last time, the old place delivered.
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