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LINCOLN — The Nebraska basketball team wasn't going to celebrate its 72-51 rout of Rutgers, Husker assistant Matt Abdelmassih said Tuesday night on the Husker Sports Network, until the clock hit all zeroes. When a team has spent the season battling the adversity NU has — COVID cases, lineup changes, the ferocious Big Ten — little will be taken for granted. 

Now that Nebraska has won two straight — and three in the last three weeks — the team is "hitting its stride" one week before the start of the Big Ten Tournament. 

"We always internally felt once we broke down that door, we could take off," Abdelmassih said.

Takeoff may have happened earlier in the season had COVID not shut the program down for four weeks. The virus ran through the team — including Abdelmassih and coach Fred Hoiberg — and the challenge of getting back in playing shape, combined with number of difficult games in close proximity to each other, has made for a uniquely tough NU season. 

But Nebraska's defense improved as the scheduled progressed, and the Huskers' offense — in a 86-83 loss to Penn State, a 78-74 win over Minnesota and the Rutgers win — had an effective field goal percentage above 59% in all three games. 

"When we move the ball, we're as lethal of an offense as there is," Abdelmassih said. 

When Hoiberg and Co. arrived at Nebraska, Abdelmassih said, the staff knew it'd be a rebuilding job, and Year 2 "wasn't just going to flip a switch." The key, Abdelmassih said, was NU continuing to work hard. 

"(Players) have nothing but confidence," Abdelmassih said. 


More notes from the hourlong chat: 

» Directly asked about the departure of leading scorer Teddy Allen — who left the team over the weekend, Abdelmassih didn't second guess NU's decision to sign the Boys Town graduate, although Abdelmassih was "very sad" to see Allen walk away before the season ended. 

"I think Teddy's leaving better than when he came in," Abdelmassih said. NU was Allen's fourth collegiate team; he left West Virginia and was effectively kicked off Wichita State's team for a domestic incident. Abdelmassih gave a nearly five-minute answer on Allen's signing and short career with the Huskers. 

"It's very well-chronicled both myself and Fred we've had our fair share of the so-called 'second-chance kids,' where people told us to stay completely away for various reasons, and the reason why we've had so much success is, we've tried to view them as human beings," Abdelmassih said in part. "Just because somebody screws up doesn't mean they don't deserve a second, third chance. 

"When Teddy came across my phone 14 months ago, it was intriguing for a lot of reasons, specifically because of his talent. I know he was talented. But the biggest draw for me was I take a lot of pride in helping these kids. And that's why I'm in this profession — to see these kids leave better than when they came in. I'm in this profession because it is a challenge, and I will never back away from a challenge.


"If there's the next Teddy Allen that comes across my phone, I'm still going to be interested, still going to take that challenge on, that's who I am, and I'll never go away from that, because that's what college athletics is about, is to afford these kids an opportunity to get a great education and to put them in a position athletically to reach their goals, their dreams. And that's what me and Fred have always done. When we started at Iowa State, we took our fair share, we were criticized tremendously — locally, nationally — and it worked out for a reason. And we're going to stick by that until we're done at Nebraska — the day 'til we're done together on this journey.

"With Teddy we gave everything we completely had. I love Teddy. We're very sad to see how it ended, but, at the end of the day, I'm also grateful that our paths have crossed. I'll always look back at this eight, nine months that we've been with each other, and I feel like Teddy's leaving better than when he came here. I think Teddy's learned a lot about himself and he's learned a lot about what it takes to be a professional. That is what this is all about." 

» Center Eduardo Andre is "oozing with talent." Fans and media have seen it as Andre has grown during Big Ten play, and is now averaging 2.4 points and 2.2 rebounds per game. Abdelmassih, a New York native and giant Knicks fan, wouldn't compare Andre's basket in the Rutgers' game to Hakeem Olajuwon, but he liked the shake move Andre had. 

Meet the 2020-21 Nebraska men's basketball team