Lincoln – Nebraska saw a 13-point second-half lead whittled to one, but got just enough plays in the final two minutes to hold on with a 63-58 victory over Northern Illinois Saturday afternoon.
Nebraska (5-2) led 56-47 with 6:38 remaining, but the Huskies used an 8-1 run to pull within 57-55 after two free throws from Daveon Balls with 1:18 left. On the Huskers’ next possession, Nebraska guard Deverell Biggs drove the lane and missed, but Leslee Smith ended the Huskers’ drought with a put-back bucket to give Nebraska a 59-55 lead with 47 seconds left.
Smith came off the bench and had a season-high 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting and a game-high nine rebounds, as three Huskers finished in double figures.
NIU came right back on its next possession as Dontel Highsmith’s long 3-pointer bounced off the rim and dropped into the net to put the Huskies within one, at 59-58 with nine seconds left. Biggs was fouled on the inbounds pass and converted both free throws, extending the lead to three points.
The Huskies (2-4) had one last chance to send the game into overtime, as Travon Baker’s 3-pointer was off the mark, and Biggs, who finished with a game-high 18 points and four rebounds, corralled the miss and sank both free throws for the final margin.
Biggs established a career high with 18 points, as Nebraska got 35 points from its bench, as the Huskers battled foul trouble throughout the second half. Terran Petteway was the third Husker in double figures, ending with 12 points and five rebounds, as the sophomore totaled nine of his points in the first half to help the Huskers build a seven-point halftime lead.
NIU’s Jordan Threloff tied Biggs for game-high honors with 18 points and added six rebounds, while Highsmith finished with 13 points in a losing effort.
Early on, Northern Illinois was the aggressor, building a six-point lead before Smith and Petteway led the Huskers back.
Smith had six points in an 11-4 run which gave Nebraska its first lead at 17-16 after a Biggs’ 3-point play. After NIU ended the run, Petteway scored seven points in a 17-second span to build a six-point lead. His 3-pointer gave Nebraska the lead at 20-18, and after a Walter Pitchford steal, Petteway was fouled from behind and was wrapped up, but still had the strength to put the ball in the hoop. Petteway hit both free throws to push the lead to 24-18. Nebraska eventually go the lead to nine points on two occasions, the last being at 35-26 after a Pitchford dunk with 1:34 left in the half.
The lead hovered between eight and 10 points in the first five minutes of the second half before Northern Illinois closed to within 43-35 after a pair of free throws from Threloff with 14:45 left, but Nebraska seemingly took over as a 3-pointer from Biggs and a driving basket by Tai Webster pushed the lead to 13 – NU’s largest of the day – 48-35 with 13:21 left
Northern Illinois would not go away behind the play of Threloff, who scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half. He scored six straight points to pull NIU with 48-41 with 9:18 left, and the Huskies continued to chip away over the final 10 minutes, despite shooting 28 percent from the field in the second half. NIU went 15-of-20 from the foul line in the second half to stay in the contest.
The Huskers return to action Wednesday night when they host defending ACC Champion Miami in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Tipoff is set for 8:30 p.m. and the game will be televised on ESPNU and across Nebraska on the Husker Sports Radio Network.
*-Deverell Biggs had a season-high 18 points, topping the 17 he had in his debut against South Carolina State. Biggs is the fifth different Husker to lead the team in scoring during the first seven games of 2013-14.
*-Leslee Smith also had a career high 13 points and added nine rebounds. He has been in double figures in four of the last six games. Smith also had three steals to match his personal best (also had three vs. South Carolina State).
*-Walter Pitchford set career highs in both rebounds (eight) and blocked shots (three).
*-Nebraska committed a season-high 16 turnovers, marking only the second time in seven games NU has committed 10 or more turnovers.
*-Nebraska improves to 4-0 at home this season.