The Devaney magic finally ran out for Nebraska on Wednesday.
With a chance to take a huge step towards solidifying an NCAA Tournament berth, the Huskers stumbled throughout the game against Kansas State and, even with a golden chance to tie or win it in the final seconds, ended up falling 61-57.
Nebraska turned it over 17 times and shot just 28.7 percent from the field and 55.6 percent from the free throw line in the second half to lose just its second home game of the season. With the loss, the Huskers' NCAA Tournament hopes were put in severe jeopardy, as they now must essentially win their remaining three games or make a miraculous run through the Big 12 Tournament to earn ticket to the Big Dance.
"I thought both teams played as hard as you could play, and I couldn't be prouder," head coach Doc Sadler said. "As I told the team, it hurts to lose, but when you prepare like we did Monday and Tuesday, at least we know that we did what we needed to do."
After pulling within one possession twice in the last minute, Nebraska made a pair of questionable decisions at the free throw line, the first of which when Eshaunte Jones missed the first of two free throws and then intentionally missed the second with 13.7 seconds left.
The ball bounced off the side of the rim and out of bounds on the intentional miss, resulting in KSU ball and two free throws with 12.3 seconds remaining by Jacob Pullen, who scored 20 of the Wildcats' 32 points in the second half.
Just when it seemed it was over for Nebraska, though, Jones drained a 3 from the corner to make it 58-56 with 7.1 seconds to go. After a quick foul, Martavious Irving made only one of his two free throws, and the Huskers had a chance to tie it on the final shot.
However, Lance Jeter was fouled by Pullen before he could get off a shot. Just like Jones a few seconds earlier, Jeter missed the first of his two free throw attempts and then tried to intentionally miss the second, but failed to hit the rim with the ball, giving KSU possession.
"I was trying to hit it off the backboard quick and give our big men a chance to put it back in," Jeter said. "It's something we practiced, but we didn't practice often. So it was way off and it looked kind of crazy. You have to complete the play, and obviously I didn't. It's on me. I have to make sure I give my big men a chance to get the ball, and I didn't, so it's my fault on that one."
Pullen was fouled before the inbounds pass came in, and he hit both of his shots from the line to seal the win for the Wildcats, who at 19-9 and 7-6 in the Big 12 were fighting just as much for their post-season lives as Nebraska.
"We still had a chance," Jeter said. "When Bear hit that shot, we felt we had a chance and just needed to foul the right person. We were in the game, we just didn't execute and get the job done."
Nebraska certainly didn't do itself any favors in the first half, as it turned the ball over 12 times through the first 20 minutes. Not only that, NU also shot just 1-of-4 from 3-point range and at one point went a full five minutes without making a field goal to let Kansas State take a six-point lead.
Things looked like the could get out of hand when KSU's Jamar Samuels scored to put the Wildcats up 23-16 with 6:46 to go in the half. But an And-1 by Caleb Walker followed by a pair of free throws by Brandon Ubel cut the deficit to two less than a minute later.
Nebraska had a golden chance to take their first lead since the 10:34 mark after a solid defensive stop on the ensuing possession, but Richardson turned it over on the baseline and Pullen scored on a lay-up to send K-State into halftime up 29-27.
"We kind of lost our focus a little bit with the turnovers, especially in the first half," Walker said. "That's something we did at their place too. Against good teams, you can't turnover the ball especially against K-State with their pressure. They pressure you 30 feet out from the basket. The turnovers were a killer for us today."
Jeter led Nebraska with 11 points in the loss, and he was the only Husker to score in double figures. Pullen, who has been as hot as any player in the country during the Wildcats' recent jump up the Big 12 standings, scored a game-high 27 points and was 10-of-11 from the free throw line.
Nebraska will try and keep its Tournament hopes alive on Saturday when it travels to take on Iowa State. The Huskers, who will play on the road in two of their final three games, are just 1-5 in Big 12 road games this season.
"This hurt," Jeter said. "The whole team, the coaching staff, we're hurt, because we feel like we let this one go. But you've got to forget about that, because you're going into Iowa State, and they're good at home. We've just got to get this road game.
"I expect us to come out very intense and come out ready to play. Like I said, this one really hurts us. No one in the locker room is very happy, and we shouldn't be. So we're going to come out Saturday aggressive and ready to play."
Around the rim
***Along with turning over 17 times on the night, Nebraska was out-scored 24-1 in points off turnovers. Nebraska has now turned it over 39 times in two games against the Wildcats.
"Bottom line is when you plays teams as good as Kansas State and the teams you've got to beat, you can't turn the basketball over 17 times," Sadler said. "I think they got 24 points off of our turnovers, and I don't think we can guard any better than we guarded. You take the turnovers away and the points they got off the turnovers, that's a pretty good night."
***One of Nebraska's biggest advantages over Kansas Sate was supposed to be its size in the post, but the Husker big men were hardly a factor on Wednesday night. Jorge Brian Diaz, Andre Almeida and Ubel combined for just nine points on 3-of-17 shooting from the field to go along with 10 total fouls.
Diaz and Almeida combined for just three total rebounds.
"They tried hard," Sadler said. "Our guys did a great job of getting them the ball, and they did a great job of making themselves open, and - like you said - 3-for-17. You just come up short in that area."
***In the end, Sadler said the biggest difference in the game was the play of Pullen, especially with the game in the balance late in the second half.
"They had one guy," Sadler said. "Twenty-seven points. He made the plays down the stretch."
***Despite the loss, the Huskers still seemed confident they could win out in their remaining three games and still be in prime position to earn their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1998.
"It's still in our favor," Walker said. "If we can get these last three and try to go 9-7, I think it would be big for us. We can't just throw in the hat. We're still right there."