Lincoln - Behind a season-high 20 points from Toney McCray, the Nebraska men's basketball team held off a pesky Alcorn State squad, 60-46, at the Devaney Center Saturday night.
McCray, making his first start of the season, hit 9-of-11 shots from the floor and added a season-high seven rebounds, as Nebraska improved to 7-3 on the season with its third straight win.
Alcorn State was within 40-39 after a JaMichael Hawkins' 3-pointer with 8:54 remaining before the Huskers finally seized control with a 13-0 run to get some breathing room. Caleb Walker's dunk off an alley-oop from Bo Spencer ignited the run, as Nebraska held Alcorn State scoreless over the next 4:42 to build a 14-point lead.
Nebraska got the ball inside, as Ubel, McCray and Walker combined for 11 points in the surge while using strong defensive pressure to force several Braves' turnovers.
The Huskers eventually led by as many as 16 before cruising for a 14-point win, as NU held its third opponent to under 50 points.
Brandon Ubel and Bo Spencer joined McCray in double figures, as Ubel finished with 13 points and eight rebounds, while Spencer chipped in 11 points and did not commit a turnover in 30 minutes of action.
Nebraska, which was playing without two of its top three scorers because of injuries, struggled to find the range in the first half, shooting 30.8 percent from the floor in the opening half in holding a 23-21 lead. Nebraska used a 5-0 run to take a 13-8 lead before the Braves ran off six straight points to take a 14-13 lead on Hawkins' jumper. The Huskers would eventually regain the lead at 17-16 on a McCray 3-pointer and led by as many as five points, at 23-18, before Xavian Rimmer's 3-pointer made it a two-point game at the break.
The Huskers seemingly took control early in the second half, as Ubel and McCray helped the Huskers run off six straight points to build a 31-25 lead on McCray's jumper. Alcorn State answered right back with a 5-0 run before Spencer's basket with 14:08 left put NU up 33-30. It remained a one-possession game until Brandon Richardson's 3-pointer with 9:29 left made it 40-36 before Hawkins' 3-pointer quickly took the lead back to one point.
Ken McDonald led Alcorn State (2-8) with 16 points as he hit 8-of-15 shots from the floor, while no other player finished in double figures.
The Huskers return to action on Tuesday night when they host Central Michigan. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. and the game will be carried on the Husker Sports Network and also televised on NET-1
*-Toney McCray made his first start of the season and finished with season highs in both points (20) and rebounds (7). His previous highs were 15 points (at Creighton, 12/4) and six rebounds (vs. South Dakota, 11/11; vs. South Dakota State, 11/26). McCray also set a career high with nine field goals made, as he went 9-of-11 from the floor.
*-Tonight was McCray’s second career 20-point game and his highest offensive effort since scoring a career-high 23 points at Baylor on Feb. 9, 2011
*-Brandon Ubel finished with 13 points and eight rebounds, the third straight game he has grabbed at least eight rebounds. In that stretch, he is averaging 9.7 points and 9.0 rebounds per game
*Nebraska’s 17 offensive rebounds were a season high and the most since grabbing 19 at Kansas on Jan. 15, 2011.
*-Nebraska has now held three opponents to 50 points or less this season.
*-Trevor Menke made his career debut as he played four minutes in the second half.
*-Nebraska finished with 13 assists and 11 turnovers, the sixth time this season NU has had more assists then turnovers
*-Nebraska’s 23 points in the first half was a season low (previous low was 25 at USC).
*-Nebraska shot 39.6 percent from the field, the first time this season that NU was out-shot from the floor, but on the game.
Nebraska Head Coach Doc Sadler
“Well that’s two games in a row where I thought we started the basketball game very timidly offensively and defensively. You can say whatever the reasons, but it doesn’t really matter. We’ve got to get it corrected because we aren’t going to be able to come out and play 20 minutes of basketball (like that) once we get into league play and be successful. I thought the second half defensively we probably played as hard and as aggressive as we can play, and that’s probably where we won the game. Offensively we are very timid right now. We shouldn’t be struggling as much as we are offensively, especially tonight. We’ve got to understand that the basketball has to get inside. We’ve got to get to the free throw line more than any other reason. We can’t rely on the jump shots. I’m very happy that we won the basketball game. With less than 10 minutes to go, it could’ve gone either way, but you’ve got to give our guys credit in the second half for playing hard. I thought Toney McCray played about as hard as you can play. I was very pleased with his effort. I thought most of the guys played pretty hard, especially in the second half.”
On if there has been more of a sense of urgency in the second half the past couple games
“I don’t know. If that’s the case, then we need to get it changed, because as some of you saw in the TCU game, there was a whole different level of energy in the second half defensively. And if we are going to be very good, we need to be good defensively. We are playing some guys that probably aren’t used to playing as many minutes as they did tonight.”
On his thoughts on Trevor Menke’s play tonight
“I thought Trevor did a good job. I wanted guys that were going to do what we asked; play hard, keep the ball in front of him and get the ball inside. It’s not that difficult. We’ve got to get it corrected pretty quick. We don’t have much time.”
Senior Forward Toney McCray
On what got him to play so well tonight
“I think just coach talking about practicing a lot harder and trying to get in shape. That’s probably the biggest thing, trying to be consistent in practice, going hard. That usually gets you in the flow and gets you going. In the past, I may have been sandbagging in practice but coach got on me and tried to change that around.”
On if he felt he needed to pick up the scoring slack with Dylan Talley and Jorge Brain Diaz out
“Not really. Everyone on the team can score, everybody can make shots. I didn’t think that was something that we’d be lacking. Rebounding and energy are probably the two things that we missed the most without those two guys.”
On if the team was timid tonight
“A little bit in the first half. We just weren’t aggressive, not hunting for your own shot and putting the ball on the floor and making them guard you. In the first half, we were just passing the ball around and not looking to be aggressive not only for ourselves but for everyone on the floor.”
Alcorn State Coach Luther Riley
On the game
“They (Nebraska) knew when to turn it on. They stepped up on defense, and we couldn’t match it.”
On the Braves’ strong performance in the first half
“We wanted to contain Bo Spencer and shut down the inside. We were effective (against Spencer), but we gave up 10 offensive rebounds and they were able to get 10 second-chance points off those. We did what we wanted to do (in the first half) to a certain extent, but we gave up too many offensive rebounds.”
On shooting 46.3 percent
“Our best scorer (Twann Oakley) didn’t even score a basket, so we didn’t shoot that well. (Ken) McDonald was able to make shots. We wanted to be patient in our offense and get good looks. We have some young guys who can knock down good looks, and we were able to get good looks.”
On holding Bo Spencer to 3-for-12 shooting
“Because he’s such a big, strong guard, we wanted to contain him and make work for every shot. We doubled him at times and kept him guessing to what we were doing.”
On Nebraska’s 13-0 run
“It was partially them, but it was mostly us. We were careless with the basketball, partially due to their press, but we made some freshmen mistakes.”
On Ken McDonald’s performance
“He did well, but he wanted to be a take-over guy. He’s not that. He has to learn to stay within the system and he’ll be effective.”