Nebraska win produces tie in Big Ten/ACC Challenge
An early December game between two teams picked to finish at or near the bottom of their conferences never meant so much.
At least that's the way Nebraska coach Tim Miles saw his Cornhuskers' 60-49 victory over Miami on Wednesday night.
The win in the final game of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge allowed the Big Ten to forge a 6-6 tie in the 12-game, two-night competition. By virtue of the tie, the Big Ten retained the Commissioner's Cup and is 3-10-2 in the 15 Challenges.
"We saved the Big Ten's bacon, right?" Miles said. "We ended up hanging in there with that. That was important for us. We wanted to be part of that. Last year I don't think anyone picked us to beat Wake (Forest) and we were able to do that. We like being part of this Challenge. It means something to our program."
Terran Petteway scored all 14 of his points in the second half and blocked three shots and Walter Pitchford added 13 for the Huskers (6-2). Shavon Shields had nine points and seven rebounds, and Leslee Smith had 10 rebounds to go with seven points and two blocks.
Rion Brown had 23 of his 25 points in the second half for Miami (5-4).
"We just have a hard time scoring the ball," Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. "Different guys have to step up. Rion Brown had a big game and scored more than half our points. We can't have one guy with 25 and no one else with more than five. You need better balance, and we didn't have it tonight."
The Huskers, picked to finish last in the Big Ten, went on a 19-9 run to break open the game after Miami pulled to 36-31. Pitchford hit a 3-pointer, took a charge on the other end and then made two free throws to blunt Miami's comeback bid.
"Everybody on this team would do whatever they have to do to win," Pitchford said. "I was in the right place at the right time."
The Hurricanes shot 32 percent in an offensive performance symptomatic of a team in rebuilding mode after a run to the Sweet 16 last season. They lost all five starters from the 29-win team that won the ACC. This season the Hurricanes are picked 12th out of 15 in the ACC.
Miami, which had won two straight after coming from behind to beat Arizona State 60-57 on Sunday, scored under 50 points for the second time this season.
"I thought we played pretty hard," Larranaga said. "I didn't see a letup emotionally or physically. Normally you can see that. That's basically the way we've been playing. If you look at our stats, we haven't shot well this year."
The Hurricanes went six minutes between field goals in both the first and second halves. The crowd rode Manu Lecomte and Davon Reed hard after they shot 3s that missed everything, chanting "air ball, air ball" every time they touched the ball the rest of the game.
Miles tweaked his backcourt, with Tai Webster starting for the first time in three games and Ray Gallegos for the first time in four games.
The Huskers held Miami to 24-percent shooting and a season-low 13 points in the first half. Webster's drive to the basket ended the Huskers' 5 ½-minute scoring drought and broke an 11-11 tie. Gallegos' back-to-back 3s got the crowd on its feet and pushed the Huskers' lead out to 22-13 at the break.
Miami never got closer than 36-31 after an 11-0 run that included a pair of 3s by Brown and another by Reed.
Now Nebraska prepares to meet in-state rival Creighton and two-time first-team All-American Doug McDermott in Omaha on Sunday.
"This is my first taste," Smith said of the annual game against Creighton. "People talk about it, and I really follow that guy — what's his name?"
Pitchford pointed out the guy's name is McDermott.
"I really follow him a lot, just to see his game, to see his weaknesses and to see the way he plays," Smith said. "He's a real good player and he's the heart and soul of that team. Our main focus is going to be getting him out of his sync and making sure the rest of the team doesn't get comfortable. We're going to try our best to come out with another victory."