By NU Athletic Communications
Lincoln – A strong defensive performance propelled the Nebraska basketball team to a 14-point halftime lead, and the Huskers were able to withstand a late Missouri rally and hold on for a 56-51 victory in the Big 12 Conference opener for both teams Saturday afternoon at the Bob Devaney Sports Center.
The win improved Nebraska to 11-3 on the season, while the Huskers won their Big 12 opener for the first time under Head Coach Doc Sadler. NU also improved to 39-0 under Sadler when leading at home with five minutes remaining, and although the Huskers never trailed, that streak appeared to be in danger.
Nebraska stretched its 14-point halftime advantage to 18 early in the second half, but the Tigers continually chipped away at the lead. After scoring just 18 points in the first half, Missouri scored more points in the opening 10 minutes of the second half than it did in the entire first period.
The Tigers (13-3, 0-1) pulled to within eight seven minutes into the second half, were within one possession with more than six minutes remaining in the half and pulled even at 51 with 1:12 remaining in the game. Nebraska then scored the final five points to pull away for the win.
The NU defense held Missouri to a season-low 51 points, as the Tigers had been held under 70 points only once in 15 games entering the game. After hitting just seven first-half field goals and shooting just 31.8 percent, MU hit 44 percent from the field in the second half. Missouri’s strength inside showed in the second half, as the Tigers scored 16 of their 33 points in the paint and added 10 free throws. Leo Lyons scored 12 second-half points after being held scoreless in the first half.
The Huskers’ go-to-man was Ade Dagunduro, who scored a career-high 20 points in the win. He got help down the stretch from Sek Henry and Ryan Anderson. Henry snapped the 51-51 tie with a driving basket, while Anderson pulled down huge rebounds on both ends in the final 15 seconds and hit 3-of-4 free throws to seal the win. Anderson finished with a season-high 10 rebounds, while scoring eight points. Henry added 13 points, including six in the second half.
Nebraska, which led 32-18 at the half, opened the game on a 7-0 run and closed the first half on a 13-2 run. Nebraska's defense forced 12 Missouri turnovers, as Nebraska took four offensive charges in the opening 20 minutes. The Huskers hit 47.6 percent from the field in the half, led by a superb effort from Dagunduro, who hit his first three shots of the game en route to 13 first-half points
Dagunduro scored six of the game's first seven points as Nebraska led 7-0 after the opening three minutes. Missouri did not score until nearly five minutes into the game, when a Matt Lawrence 3-pointer cut the lead to 7-3. After a second Lawrence three, both teams went scoreless for nearly four minutes before Paul Velander broke the drought with a 3-pointer that gave the Huskers a 12-6 lead midway through the half.
Nebraska continued to hold at least a four-point lead before a strong finish to the half propelled the Huskers to a double-digit lead. Anderson answered a Missouri 3-pointer with a three of his own to put NU in front by seven. Dagunduro then recorded a steal and converted a contested layup while being fouled for his 10th point of the half. After converting the free throw to complete the traditional three-point play, Nebraska led 25-15 with 3:32 remaining.
A Henry basket and two more Dagunduro free throws capped a run of 10 straight Husker points that put NU in front 29-15 with less than a minute remaining in the half. Marcus Denmon’s 3-pointer snapped the run and marked Missouri’s only points in the final five minutes of the half, but Henry answered it with a trey of his own with seven seconds left on the clock to give Nebraska its 14-point lead at the break.
The Huskers opened the second half with four straight points before Lyons knocked down Missouri’s first free throw in six attempts. Lyons’ two free throws ignited a 7-2 run that cut NU’s lead to 38-27 nearly four minutes into the half.
Trailing 42-29, Missouri scored seven straight points to cut the lead to six with 12:06 on the clock. The Tigers were able to make their run as the Husker offense went stagnant. Nebraska hit only one field goal during a 6:06 stretch when MU trimmed a 15-point lead down to five.
Following a 2:19 scoreless drought, a Missouri free throw pulled the Tigers within three before Dagunduro knocked down a pair at the charity stripe. A Tiller jumper closed the gap to 48-47 with five minutes remaining, before Dagunduro broke another scoreless stretch with an offensive rebound and put back.
Leading 50-49 with 2:10 remaining, Anderson hit 1-of-2 free throws before Missouri tied the game for the first time on a Tiller jumper. Henry answered the basket with his driving layup with just over a minute remaining and Nebraska got the ball back with 47.3 seconds on the clock following a Tiger miss.
The Huskers ran the clock inside 20 seconds before Cookie Miller’s floater rattled out, Steve Harley’s tip missed and Anderson pulled down the offensive rebound and was fouled with 10.8 seconds remaining. Anderson missed the first free throw but made the second and following a missed Tigers’ 3-pointer, Anderson grabbed the defensive rebound with 1.6 on the clock. He then went to the other end and calmly sank both free throws to seal the win.
Nebraska hits the road for the first time in conference play on Wednesday, when the Huskers travel to Ames, Iowa, for a battle with the Iowa State Cyclones. Tipoff for that contest is scheduled for 7 p.m. and the game will be televised in the state of Nebraska on Fox Sports Midwest.