CHICAGO — Nebraska's improbable tour of the Big Ten men's basketball tournament ended Friday night when the Huskers ran out of gas, physically and mentally.
NU jumped to a nine-point lead on No. 10 Ohio State and was still within a point in the final 80 seconds of the first half.
But the Buckeyes scored 30 of the next 35 points to run away to a 71-50 victory in front of about 16,000 at the United Center.
“We came out aggressive early and executed and jumped on them,” said Husker guard Ray Gallegos, glued to a chair after setting the single-season school record for minutes played.
“But when they made a run, we just couldn't come back from it. We had a whole bunch of turnovers (14 in an 18-minute stretch). Their pressure was just too much. We couldn't counter.”
Coach Tim Miles declined to say in a one-on-one interview if the loss was the official end of the season for Nebraska (15-18), which upset Purdue on Thursday to reach the Big Ten quarterfinals.
The school has submitted paperwork for the College Basketball Invitational tournament, which picks teams after the NCAA and NIT.
But with no home arena because of Devaney Center construction, a $35,000 entry fee and no Big Ten team ever having played in the CBI, expect the Huskers to check in their gear after their third losing season in the past four and seventh in the past 14.
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Nebraska, picked last in the Big Ten, finished with six wins against conference foes, and drew another compliment from the coach of a ranked team.
“If you look at Nebraska from the start of the season to now,” Ohio State's Thad Matta said, “Tim has done a phenomenal job of bringing that team along.”
But exceeding outside expectations brings Miles no comfort.
“We have to build our own tradition and our own expectations,” he said. “If we sit here and say, 'OK, we had a pretty good year because everybody thought we exceeded expectations,' we are digging our own grave.
“We don't live in that world. That's not in our language. We want to build our own future.”
It's a future that Nebraska senior point guard Dylan Talley wishes he could be a part of.
“We've got a good thing going on here,” he said. “I wish I had another year with my teammates because I love them.
“I'm proud of what we did and what the seniors helped build. I'll be watching.”
Fellow senior Brandon Ubel, who led Nebraska with 16 points and seven rebounds, said he hopes a good foundation has been started.
“That was the goal,” he said. “We wanted to prove everybody else wrong. We did that to a degree. As the season went on, we were playing better and better basketball.
“Hopefully that will carry over into next season and the next season.”
Miles said he likes Nebraska's future, too, but not without some worries.
“I think we've got some talent on the way,” he said. “But we've got a lot of work to do to replace the heart and soul of this group — Dylan Talley, Brandon Ubel and Andre Almeida.
“Losing that much veteran leadership, we're going to have to develop some. And that's going to take time. But I'm looking forward to building this program.”
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