March 18, 2009

NU's season finally comes to an end in loss to Lobos

The tank finally went empty.

Despite being worn down from a grueling regular season schedule, Nebraska still clung to the hope of making one last run through the National Invitation Tournament. As it turned out, though, the Huskers didn't even have enough gas left to make it out of the first round.

Playing in one of the most difficult home courts in college basketball, No. 6-seed Nebraska couldn't muster up enough momentum or offensive consistency to pull off a rally over No. 3-seed New Mexico, as it officially ended its season with an 83-71 loss at The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M.

Junior guard Sek Henry scored a team-high 13 points and senior guard Steve Harley followed with 11, but that wasn't nearly enough to match the Lobos' hot shooting, as they hit 51.1 percent from the field and 53.3 percent from 3-point range.

New Mexico's 83 points were the most Nebraska had allowed all season.

Things started out about as bad as they could for Nebraska, as a nearly 6-minute scoreless streak by the Huskers helped New Mexico jump out to an early 14-6 lead with 13 minutes to play.

The Huskers were eventually to cut the deficit to 28-26 on a lay-up and free throw by senior guard Ade Dagunduro with a little more than 6 minutes left, but the Lobos answered right back with the help of another 5-minute scoreless streak by NU and go up 39-26 with 1 minute to go.

However, back-to-back 3-pointers by senior guard Steve Harley and redshirt freshman guard Toney McCray helped spark the Huskers to an 8-0 run to end the half that made the score a manageable 39-34 deficit for NU. New Mexico's 39 points were the most Nebraska had allowed in the first half all season.

Things started even worse in the second half for the Huskers, as New Mexico opened up with a 17-3 run to jump out to its biggest lead of the game at 19 roughly 14 minutes to go in the game.

While the Lobos came out firing, the Huskers couldn't seem to buy a bucket. In fact, it wasn't until a lay-up by redshirt freshman Brandon Richardson 13:32 remaining that NU got its first field goal of the second half. Nebraska scored just 10 points in the first 8 minutes, 47 seconds after halftime.

"At that point, a lesser team in a situation like that may have unraveled, but they found a way to fight back and got it under 10," Nebraska head coach Doc Sadler said. "We had the basketball a couple of times down the stretch and we were still in the ball game. That's a credit to our guys. We just didn't make some shots down the stretch."

Though nothing seemed to go Nebraska's way offensively, like so many times before this season, it was able to somehow chip away at the deficit and pull to as close as seven points with just under 2 minutes to play. Unfortunately for the Huskers, that would be as close as they would come, as New Mexico was able to hold off the late rally and hold on to advance to the second round of the NIT.

The Huskers ended their season losers of five of their final seven games.

It was obviously a tough pill to swallow for Sadler, but it was far from his hardest part of the night. That moment came well after the final buzzer, as he gave his last post-game speech to the 2008-09 Nebraska Cornhuskers.

"When you start out your season in October, the end looks like it's a long ways away," Sadler said. "But then you get here in March and it comes quick. It was so difficult to address the team in the last time they'll be together.

"A thing I told the team was at least we can leave that locker room - and I don't know how many teams can say this - but there wasn't a selfish bone in that locker room. This team has overachieved. They've given Nebraska fans more than they had, and each and every night they had to do it or we wouldn't have won many games. I'm so proud of them."

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