Ade Dagunduro tied his career high with 24 points to help guide Nebraska to a 77-61 victory over Iowa State on Wednesday.
But he would've been fine not scoring a single point, just as long as the Huskers still came out on top.
In the final home game for Dagunduro and fellow seniors Steve Harley, Paul Velander and Nick Krenk, Nebraska played one of its best overall games of the season to pick up a much-needed victory and send its four seniors out on a high note in their Devaney Center farewell.
"It means a lot," Dagunduro said. "That would've been devastating to go out with a loss. That's a credit to our guys – they wouldn't let our seniors down, and they did a good job of rallying."
After a late scoring run to end the first half sent Nebraska into halftime with a three-point lead, the Huskers turned up the intensity on both ends of the court and at one point led by as many as 19 points in the second half.
Leading 45-43 with 15 minutes to play, the Huskers put together a 23-6 run capped off by a basket by Dagunduro to bolster their lead to 68-49 with 5 minutes, 22 seconds left in the game.
Though Nebraska admittedly got a bit complacent in the final five minutes and let the Cyclones pull to within 12 at one point, it was able to hang on and snap its three-game losing streak.
"For some reason, our energy wasn't where it needed to be to start the game," Dagunduro said. "Coach told us we had find a way to get some energy going, so we took it upon ourselves to kind of boost our energy out there. We got a couple scramble plays, so that gave us some momentum going into the second half."
The game started out tight and remained that way for the majority of the first half, as the lead changed hands seven times before Nebraska closed out the half with a five-point flurry in the final 15 seconds.
With Iowa State leading 31-29, Harley hoisted up a desperation 3-pointer with the shot clock running down that banked in off the backboard to put NU up by one with 14 seconds to go.
On ISU's ensuing possession, Dagunduro and sophomore Cookie Miller trapped guard Lucca Staiger at mid-court with the game clock winding down, and Dagunduro stole the ball away and passed it out to junior Sek Henry for a breakaway. Henry passed it back to Dagunduro, who was able to lay it in off the glass with just seconds remaining and send the Huskers into halftime up 34-31.
Along with Dagnduro, the Huskers had four players score in double figures, as Miller followed up with 14 points and junior Ryan Anderson and Harley added 11 and 10 points, respectively.
With the win, Nebraska improves to 17-11 overall and 7-8 in the Big 12 Conference heading into Saturday's season finale on the road against Baylor. While there is obviously still much left to be done for the Huskers, they still took some time after Wednesday's win to celebrate sending their four senior leaders out on top in their final home game.
"First off, I'd like to congratulate those four seniors," NU head coach Doc Sadler said. "They've meant so much to this program… I'm just so pleased that these guys were able to leave here on a good note. It's been a tough three- or four-game stretch. I think we've played well, but as I've said all along, it's about winning and losing ball games, and man, to win a game makes you feel good."
Dagunduro reflects on final home win
With 34 seconds remaining in his final game at the Devaney Center, Dagunduro stood at the free throw line praying his ensuing free throw would go in.
Sure, Nebraska was up 77-61 at that point and the game was already well in hand, but Dagunduro knew he needed to make the free throw so he could let Sadler sub him out and give him one last wave goodbye to the Husker faithful before the final buzzer sounded.
As luck would have it, he missed the shot, but as any good coach would do, Sadler called a timeout as soon as he could to let Dagunduro have his proper send off.
It may not have been the most ideal ending, but Dagunduro and the rest of Nebraska's seniors still accomplished their most important goal of the night by getting a victory in their last regular season home game.
It was clear from the opening tip that nerves were definitely a factor for NU's four seniors, as all four of them missed 3-pointers within the game's first four minutes. Luckily, they and the rest of the team were able to settle down eventually and put on one of their best overall performances of the year.
"Once the game started, I air balled, Pauly shot a couple of crazy shots, and I was like, 'Uh oh, I know this story. The seniors have a bad game on Senior Night,'" Dagunduro said. "But we kind of got settled in and after that first five minutes we were fine… We didn't want to over-hype the Senior Day situation, because things can come up not looking good for us. Our first and foremost priority was to get the win, and we took care of business."
All together, Nebraska's seniors combined for 39 points, eight rebounds and five assists. After the game, Sadler said he told the team – especially its underclassmen – how difficult of an experience it would be to lose on Senior Night, and he said the Huskers responded about as well as he could've hoped for.
"I told the team, I was part of a situation when I was an assistant at UTEP that the seniors lost their last home game, and that's no fun," Sadler said. "I mean, these guys have worked too hard to go out not winning this last game. This means a lot."
Along with Dagunduro's team-high 24 points, Sadler said he was also happy to see Harley get a bit of his scoring touch back, as Harley shot 4-of-7 from the field for 10 points after struggling recently offensively.
"I think if Steve can get into double figures for us, especially down the stretch, then we'll have a chance to win some games," he said. "But we've got to get Steve getting in double figures, and he did that tonight."
Sadler also said seeing Velander take a charge – something he's turned into somewhat of a signature move over the course of his career – late in the second half was the perfect ending for the Huskers' ultimate role player.
"These guys have put in so much hard work, and I was so glad that Paul Velander got a charge call," he said. "That kind of typifies his career."
Niemann injures knee, set to have surgery
On a night that should have been nothing but positive for Nebraska, Sadler gave one piece of bad news during his post-game press conference.
Following the Huskers' pre-game practice on Wednesday, freshman center Christopher Niemann apparently injured his ACL in his knee while participating in a light run through with some of NU's other reserve players.
Sadler said there was no contact involved in the injury, and that the 6-foot-11, 265-pounder simply landed wrong. Niemann is expected to have surgery on his knee sometime next week, and his expected return date is currently unknown.
"That's the only thing that kind of puts a damper on things," Sadler said. "I told the team after the game what had happened. Just a freak accident out there."