Lincoln -Nebraska placed five players in double figures Tuesday night as the Huskers closed out non-conference play with a 72-69 victory over Central Michigan at the Bob Devaney Sports Center.
With two of its top three scorers unavailable due to injury, Nebraska's senior class carried the offense, accounting for 52 of the Huskers' 72 points. Brandon Richardson scored a season-high 15 points, Bo Spencer added 15 of his own and Toney McCray and Caleb Walker each scored 11. Spencer added a career-high nine assists, while McCray pulled down a season-high eight rebounds. Junior Brandon Ubel added 11 points and seven rebounds.
The production from the seniors helped Nebraska win its fourth straight game and improve to 8-3 on the season. Central Michigan, which was paced by Trey Ziegler's game-high 20 points, fell to 5-7 on the year.
The game was ultimately won at the free throw line, as Central Michigan made more field goals and more 3-pointers, and shot a better percentage than Nebraska overall and from behind the arc. But the Huskers' aggressiveness earned them a season-high 26 trips to the line, where they converted 20 free throws. The Chippewas were not as successful, converting only 11-of-20 from the charity stripe.
CMU came out strong from the opening tip, scoring on four of its first six possessions to build an early 6-0 lead. Nebraska's offense opened the game with a three-minute scoring drought, but for the rest of the half, the Huskers operated their offense efficiently and their defense clamped down on Central Michigan.
Nebraska hit 14 of its 24 first-half shots (58 percent), including 5-of-9 from beyond the arc. McCray poured in 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the first half, knocking down four of his six shots. Spencer hit all three of his first-half shots to add seven points, while dishing out six assists. Overall, the Huskers had 10 assists on their 14 first-half baskets.
After McCray and Richardson kept Nebraska close early by scoring the Huskers' first nine points, Nebraska took control late in the half. Trailing 21-20 with 8:33 left, the Huskers scored 11 straight points to build a 31-21 advantage. Defense fueled the 11-0 run, as the Huskers held Central Michigan scoreless for more than six minutes.
The Chippewas snapped the run with five quick points before McCray beat the first-half buzzer with a 3-pointer from the corner to send the Huskers into the locker room with a 34-26 lead. The eight-point halftime advantage marked Nebraska's largest since the third game of the season.
Nebraska opened the second half by missing seven of its first eight shots, but Central Michigan was unable to chip away at the lead, as the Husker defense held them to only two points in a four-minute stretch.
The Huskers then used a 7-0 run to stretch the lead to 12 at 45-33 with 13:20 remaining. The Chippewas responded by scoring seven of the next nine points to close within seven before Brandon Ubel answered with a three-point play to push the lead back to double figures.
The teams continued to trade quick scoring spurts, as Central Michigan scored five straight points to cut the lead to five and missed a chance to get even closer by failing to convert on four free throws during the run. Richardson answered with five points in a 16-second span to push the lead back to 10, before the Chippewas came right back with five points in 22 seconds to once again trim the lead to five with 7:31 remaining.
The Chippewas continued to cut into the lead as they scored on five straight possessions during a 9-2 run and held Nebraska without a field goal for more than four minutes. A pair of Ziegler free throws pulled CMU within one at 57-56 with five minutes to play.
That would be as close as the Chippewas would get, as a quick basket by Spencer gave Nebraska a two-possession lead. The Huskers then held Central Michigan without a field goal for the next four minutes as they stretched their advantage to 64-56 with 1:26 remaining. The Chippewas cut the lead to three on four occasions in the final 30 seconds, but Nebraska hit 7-of-8 free throws down the stretch to preserve the win.
With the non-conference season complete, Nebraska turns its attention to its first season of play in the Big Ten Conference. The Huskers' inaugural Big Ten game comes against Wisconsin at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 27 at the Devaney Center. Tickets are available for the historic opener on Huskers.com or by calling 1-800-8-BIG-RED. The matchup will also be televised nationally on ESPN2.