Game 11: Central Michigan
Game Date: Dec. 20, 2011
Tipoff Time: 7 p.m.
Venue: Bob Devaney Sport Center
2011-12 Record: 7-3
Head coach: Doc Sadler
Record at Nebraska: 96-74 (6th year)
Record at Division I: 144-92 (8th year)
Career Record: 264-131 (14th year)
CENTRAL MICHIGAN CHIPPEWAS
2011-12 Record: 5-6
Head Coach: Ernie Zeigler
Record at Central Michigan: 69-96 (6th year)
Career Record: same
HUSKERS ON TV/RADIO/INTERNET
Television: Statewide on NET-1 (Ch. 12)
Play-by-play: Larry Punteney
Color: Andy Markowski
Radio: IMG Husker Sports Radio Network (including KLIN 1400 AM in Lincoln; KFAB 1110 AM in Omaha; KRVN 880 AM in Lexington)
Play-by-play: Kent Pavelka
Color: Matt Davison
Internet Radio/Stats: Free on Huskers.com
Satellite Radio: None
Huskers Look for Fourth Straight Win
The Nebraska men's basketball team closes non-conference play on Tuesday evening, as the Huskers take on Central Michigan at the Devaney Center. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. and tickets for the matchup are on sale for as little as $5 by visiting Huskers.com, calling 800-8-BIGRED or at the Devany Center Ticket Office Tuesday evening beginning at 5:30 p.m.
Tuesday's game is the second of two games televised statewide on Nebraska Educational Television (NET-1 and NET-HD) with Larry Punteney and Andy Markowski on the call. The game will also be available to out-of-state viewers on BTN.com (subscription required).
Tuesday's Nebraska-Central Michigan game will also be carried across Nebraska on the 30-station IMG Husker Sports Radio Network with Kent Pavelka and Matt Davison on the call. The game can also be heard on Huskers.com and season audio packages are also available for purchase on the Huskers' App for your iPhone or iPod Touch.
The Huskers are 7-3 on the season and will look to take a four-game win streak into the Christmas break before opening Big Ten Conference action against nationally ranked Wisconsin on Tuesday, Dec. 27.
Nebraska returned to action following final exams and struggled before pulling away late in a 60-46 win over Alcorn State on Saturday. Senior Toney McCray keyed the Huskers to victory, scoring a career-high 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting from the floor and adding a season-high seven rebounds. McCray, who made his first start of the season against Alcorn State, has been a solid performer in December, averaging 13.0 points and 4.0 rebounds per game over the Huskers's last four contests.
The Huskers needed a spark from the senior guard, as Nebraska was without two of its top three scorers (Jorge Brian Diaz and Dylan Talley) against Alcorn State because of injuries. McCray and junior forward Brandon Ubel combined for 33 points and 15 rebounds on Saturday, while Ubel is averaging 9.7 points and 9.0 rebounds in the Huskers' three-game win streak.
Central Michigan (5-6) comes to town following a 59-52 loss at Iowa State on Sunday afternoon. CMU, which has taken on Temple, Minnesota and Iowa State in the last three weeks, was led by Trey Zeigler's 19-point, five-round effort, but shot just 38 percent, including 4-of-24 from 3-point range. Zeigler, who has come off the bench for the last three games, averages 17.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game to pace three CMU players who average double figures.
HUSKER TIP OFF
Number of 20-point games by Huskers in the first 10 games. That tops Nebraska's entire 2010-11 total of five in 32 games. Toney McCray became the third Husker to record a 20-point game this season when he had a season-high 20 points and seven rebounds against Alcorn State.
Senior Brandon Richardson will make his 100th career appearance on Tuesday against Central Michigan.
The last time Nebraska faced a team from the Mid-American Conference, a 67-59 win over Eastern Michigan on Nov. 29, 2003.
LAST TIME OUT
Behind a season-high 20 points from Toney McCray, the Huskers held off a pesky Alcorn State squad, 60-46.
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 picked up 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 with 16 points as he hit 8-of-15 shots from the floor, while no other player finished in double figures.
SCOUTING CENTRAL MICHIGAN
Under sixth-year coach Ernie Ziegler, the Chippewas are 5-6 on the season following a 59-52 loss at Iowa State Sunday afternoon. The Chippewas have played a challenging early-season schedule, including the Great Alaska Shootout as well as games at Temple, Minnesota and Iowa State before taking on the Huskers.
Ziegler, who was an assistant at Pittsburgh and UCLA before taking the Central Michigan job, has a relatively young team with a freshman and two sophomores among the team's top six scorers. Zeigler's son, Trey, is the team's leading scorer, pacing the Chippewas in both scoring (17.3 ppg) and rebounding (6.7 rpg), while coming off the bench in the last three contests. Trey, who chose to play for his father at CMU, turning down offers from UCLA, Michigan and Michigan State among others, averaged 16.3 points per game as a freshman and was one of just 18 collegiate players selected to participate in the Kevin Durant NIKE Skills Academy in the offseason. Freshman Austin McBroom averages 11.2 points per game and has hit 21 of 42 3-pointers, while sophomore guard Derek Jackson is the third CMU player in double figures, averaging 10.7 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals per contest.
NEBRASKA-CENTRAL MICHIGAN SERIES
Tuesday's matchup is the first meeting between the Huskers and Chippewas, and the Huskers are 16-5 against schools from the Mid-American Conference. It is the Huskers' first contest against a MAC member since a 67-59 win over Eastern Michigan on Nov. 29, 2003. Central Michigan is the fourth first-time opponent on Nebraska's 2011-12 slate (Rhode Island, Wake Forest, Florida Gulf Coast).
SPENCER MAKES MOST OF SENIOR YEAR
While Nebraska returned four starters from a team that won 19 games last season, the loss of point guard Lance Jeter was a significant one. An All-Big 12 performer, Jeter led the Huskers in both scoring and assists in 2010-11.
Luckily for the Huskers, they already had a veteran point guard on the roster, as senior Bo Spencer sat out last season after transferring from LSU. He has been solid early on, averaging a team-high 16.1 points along with 3.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game.
Spencer has reached double figures in eight of NU's last nine games, including four 20-point performances. He had his best offensive game of the year at Creighton on Dec. 4, pouring in 29 points on 10-of-16 shooting and adding five rebounds. Spencer led Nebraska to a win at TCU on Dec. 10, hitting 7-of-12 shots, including four 3-pointers in NU's 69-57 win.
At USC on Nov. 14, he had 22 points, including the tying basket in overtime and the go-ahead bucket in double overtime, and also tied a personal best with seven rebounds. Against Rhode Island on Nov. 20, he had a season-high 23 points while shooting 8-of-13 from the floor, four assists and three steals. Against South Dakota State on Nov. 26, Spencer had a career-high eight assists along with 18 points and six rebounds.
Spencer had 11 points and played a steady floor game against Alcorn State, as he did not commit a turnover in 30 minutes of action. It marked the third time in his career - and first since March 4, 2010 - where he played at least 30 minutes and did not commit a turnover.
Before coming to Nebraska, he started two seasons for the Tigers, averaging 14.5 points, 2.7 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game in 2009-10. Spencer showed the ability to get to the basket, putting up 11 games of at least 28 points, including a 28-point effort against Western Kentucky and back-to-back 25-point contests against Kentucky and Tennessee.
In his LSU career, he reached double figures in 45 of 93 career contests, including 21 times as a junior. Spencer was the starting point guard on LSU's Southeastern Conference championship squad in 2008-09, as the Tigers reached the second round before falling to eventual champion North Carolina.
DIAZ BECOMING CONSISTENT INSIDE FORCE
Junior center Jorge Brian Diaz has been a steady presence for the Huskers throughout his three-year career. The 6-foot-11 center is one of two Huskers in double figures, averaging 10.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. His average after nine games is ahead of his career bests in points, rebounds and blocked shots, but did not play vs. Alcorn State and will likely not play in Tuesday's game because of a foot injury.
Offensively, he has been in double figures in five of NU's nine games and is second on the squad with 14 offensive rebounds. In his career, Diaz has 36 career games in double figures and now ranks 56th on Nebraska's career scoring list with 725 points.
Defensively, he tops the Big Ten in blocked shots and his 23 blocked shots is more than one Big Ten team's entire season total entering this week. Diaz, who has 102 career blocked shots became the ninth Husker to record 100 blocks with this three blocks at TCU.
He tied his career high with five blocks in the one-point win over Florida Gulf Coast on Dec. 7, joining Illinois' Meyers Leonard as the only Big Ten players with two games with at least five blocked shots this season.
Diaz enjoyed one of the best offensive games of his career against Oregon on Nov. 23, finishing with a game-high 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting, six rebounds and three blocks. He had eight of his points in a 22-7 run to help the Huskers erase a 15-point deficit before succumbing in the final minute. It was his third career 20-point effort and first since his freshman year.
Diaz has been steady on offense, scoring at least eight points in all nine games, including five double-figure efforts. He nearly recorded a double-double against No. 22 Creighton on Dec. 4 with 10 points and seven rebounds while also blocking a pair of shots. He turned in a strong effort at USC on Nov. 14 when he nearly recorded a double-double with 10 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots in a career-high 43 minutes. He also played a major role in holding USC's Dewayne Dedmon to four points on 1-of-6 shooting. Against South Dakota in the season opener, he finished with 11 points and a career-high five blocked shots, which equaled the highest single-game blocked shot total in the last six years.
Throughout his career, Diaz has been a scoring threat, as the 6-foot-11 junior is only the third Husker returnee to average in double figures under Sadler, joining Aleks Maric and Ryan Anderson in 2007-08. He is now 275 points away from the 1,000 point mark and could become just the 15th Husker to reach the 1,000-point plateau in three seasons.
TONEY, TONEY, TONEY
After a slow start, Toney McCray has regained his 2010-11 form. The 6-foot-6 senior missed a significant part of the summer after surgery on his feet and a toe injury the week of the exhibition game put him out of action for nearly a week, forcing him to play catch up during the first month of the season.
McCray is making up for lost time in recent weeks, averaging 12.7 points per game on 63 percent shooting over the last six contests after averaging 3.8 points per game on 38 percent shooting in Nebraska's first four contests. He comes off his best game of the year, totaling season highs in both points (20) and rebounds (seven) while hitting 9-of-11 shooting. McCray is now sixth in the Big Ten in field goal percentage (57.8) while also hitting 44 percent from long range.
Earlier this season, McCray had three straight games where he tied or set season highs, including 15 points and five rebounds at No. 22 Creighton on Dec. 4. He had 12 points in Nebraska's games against South Dakota and Wake Forest.
McCray may have made his biggest contributions from the foul line in the win at USC on Nov. 14. A career 61 percent shooter from the line entering his senior year, McCray hit four clutch free throws at USC - two in the final minute of regulation and a pair with 2.8 seconds remaining in overtime - for his only points of the night - in NU's 65-61 double overtime win.
UBEL DOING THE DIRTY WORK INSIDE
After a slow start offensively, junior Brandon Ubel has raised his level of play in the last month. The 6-foot-10 forward has averaged 8.6 points per game on 53 percent shooting in his last seven games after totaling just seven points in his first three contests. He began the stretch with a career-high 15 point performance against Oregon on Nov. 23 and added 12 points and eight rebounds in the win over South Dakota State on Nov. 26. He had one of the best performances of his career against Florida Gulf Coast on Dec. 7 when he had a career-high 11 rebounds and 10 points for his first career double-double. At TCU, he led Nebraska with eight rebounds and added six points, including a key offensive rebound and putback to give Nebraska the lead for good. He also had 13 points and eight rebounds in the win over Alcorn State.
Over his last three games, Ubel is averaging 9.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per game and is the first Husker since Aleks Maric in 2008 to grab eight or more rebounds in three consecutive contests.
While his offense has picked up, Ubel has been a consistent rebounder, averaging a team-high 6.3 rebounds per game to rank seventh in the conference, well up from his 3.7 rebounds per game as a sophomore.
Ubel's recent efforts were reminiscent of last year when he closed the year playing his best basketball, averaging 10.0 points on 58 percent shooting and 6.3 rebounds over the Huskers final four games - all against postseason teams. Those numbers were well above his 2010-11 season averages of 6.1 points and 3.7 rebounds per contest.
TAKING ADVANTAGE AT THE STRIPE
One area where the Huskers have been proficient is at the free throw line, where Nebraska's 76.2 percent rate leads the Big Ten and is 14th nationally in the latest NCAA stats.
It is on track to be one of the best seasons in school history, as only three Husker teams have shot over 75 percent since 1948. The 1967-68 team was third nationally when they hit a school-record 76.5 percent from the line.
Nebraska has shot 75 percent or better from the line in six of the last eight contests, hitting an impressive 78.6 percent from the line in that stretch. Nebraska has shot 80 percent or better in four of the last seven games, including 15-of-18 shooting at TCU.
The Huskers have been at their best in the clutch, hitting 85 percent (35-of-41) from the line in the last five minutes of games this season.