Randy York’s N-Sider
Sometimes, I think my wife questions why I need a radio next to me when I watch a Nebraska football or basketball game on national television. She understood why on Sunday, though, and was just as enamored as I was listening to Kent Pavelka make the calls we were watching on TV. No one in America enjoyed Nebraska’s epic upset of No. 9 Michigan State Sunday more than those of us who had IMG’s radio feed to supplement Big Ten Network television coverage.
Before you read anymore, please click the audio link and listen to Pavelka’s signature calls in a game that almost left the veteran Husker basketball play-by-play voice speechless. About two thirds of the way through the audio feed, another Terran Petteway 3-pointer takes Pavelka to another universe. “T for 3…Got It! Oh my goodness, another one!” Pavelka bellowed. The next three had a “Holy Cow” addendum as Pavelka described Nebraska’s first win over a top-10 team on the road since a 74-69 win over Iowa State 17 years ago this week. Shortly after IMG’s postgame show, where Pavelka stopped in the middle of his interview with Walter Pitchford to have his picture taken with Walter and his family, I sent a text to Pavelka. I complimented Kent and analyst Matt Davison for their energy, which included a Jackie Gleason-like comment about “How Sweet It Is!”
Winning in Stretch Drive Will Cement Historic Value
Frankly, I wanted Pavelka, who called his first Big Red basketball game in 1974, to tell me how sweet it was…really, in his own words. The truth is, this just may be the biggest win in Pavelka’s treasure chest of Husker memories, based on a couple of reasons: 1) Nebraska hasn’t qualified for an NCAA Tournament in 16 years, and suddenly, with a win like Sunday’s and continued success, making the Big Dance doesn’t seem like Fantasyland anymore; and 2) this timely upset is imbedded with potential collateral damage that would result from losing either of Nebraska’s next two home games – Thursday at 6 p.m. against Penn State and Sunday at 3:15 p.m. against Purdue. The Nittany Lions and Boilermakers have beaten the Huskers this season. There's no silver bullet solution, so Tim Miles is asking fans to be louder, prouder and fired up Thursday night.
With that backdrop, only now can we point out that five wins in the last six games have elevated the Huskers to a 6-6 record in the Big Ten and 14-10 overall. Four of Nebraska’s final six regular-season games are at Pinnacle Bank Arena, where the Huskers are 11-1 with the only scar a one-point loss to Michigan. Five of the six final games are against Big Ten teams ranked in the bottom half of the conference.
In that context, I share with everyone Pavelka’s thoughts before Nebraska’s team plane took off Sunday night in East Lansing. “I’ve broadcast some big wins over some great teams, but this one is special because people now see this program as being on another level,” Pavelka told me. “And guess what?” he added. “The best teams in the Big Ten know that. The Michigan State win made a lot of people believers. In my humble opinion, I think if we win our last four home games, we make the NCAA Tournament.”
Michigan State Had Emotional Ammunition of Its Own
One thing is certain. Michigan State didn’t overlook Nebraska. The Spartans knew Michigan had just lost to Wisconsin in Ann Arbor. All they had to do as a heavy favorite was beat the Huskers at home and take over sole possession of first-place in the conference. We take you now to Nebraska’s bench 30 minutes before the opening tipoff. Chris Harriman, an assistant coach, is sitting next to Davison, the former Husker football, basketball player who’s now a Husker football, basketball analyst. Both marvel at Miles, who’s wearing a polo and talking to MSU Coach Tom Izzo, Spartan students and fans, plus whoever might be walking by. “Dude, he’s loose as a goose,” Harriman told Davison, who replied: “It’s unbelievable, but great for us because Coach Miles keeps the team loose.”
“What a coach we have,” Pavelka said, noting that Miles was so loose he allowed BTN to film his short pregame speech to his players. Addressing his team and totally relaxed, Miles calmly told his team it was time to step up and get some confidence. “I want every guy on the attack, and I want togetherness over frustration,” he said. “I want T-E-A-M.”
Pitchford and Petteway Put Away Favored Spartans
Petteway’s 23 points and clutch basket-after-basket down the stretch earned the sophomore forward from Galveston, Texas, Big Ten Co-Player of the Week honors. Petteway was hardly the only pivotal part of Nebraska’s shocking 60-51 mastery of a team that many experts still envision cutting down the nets in the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship in North Texas April 5 and 7. The 6-foot-10 Pitchford’s 18 points, five rebounds, two steals, blocked shot and zero turnovers enabled the Huskers to maintain control of the game's tempo.
Shavon Shields led the TE-A-M effort with eight rebounds. Fellow starter David Rivers had seven rebounds. Throw in Bennie Parker's 22 nonstop minutes of hustle and the Huskers showed their coach – and everyone else – how togetherness can trump whatever frustration others might be experiencing. “Today," Miles said, "we planted our feet and we worked our butts off."
“Coach asked me to step up,” Pitchford said. “We had a talk, and it really hit me. We battled, and that’s all I can say. We expected to win and we did. We have a different culture. We’re together. We’re playing as one. We’re a team.”
A team, we might add, with more swagger today than the Huskers have had all season...a team that will not look past the next two opponents just because they occupy a position in the Big Ten standings that Nebraska knows all too well.
East Lansing: A Spirited Homecoming for Sir Walter
“We had a reality check,” said Pitchford, a Grand Rapids, Mich., native who played at East Lansing Summit Christian before lettering as a freshman at Florida and then transferring to Nebraska. “We talked to each other. Whether we’re home or away, we have to play harder than the other team. The team that’s most aggressive wins. We played together. We played with class. We didn’t let the crowd get into the game or into our heads. We quietly focused on what we had to do before we got here and then we did it.”
The win attracted significant national attention and created a new mindset, new culture and new outlook with greater potential rewards. Izzo called Nebraska “Junkyard Dogs” and the Huskers accepted the tag as a compliment that Michigan State’s head coach intended it to be. Because of Nebraska's combative demeanor and the equality of conference talent, the Huskers' next two home games may not necessarily be things of beauty. But they better be wins, so the steady climb to another level can continue.
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