For possibly the first time in his life, Cookie Miller was left wishing his team had just lost by 50 points.
For Nebraska's sophomore guard, a blowout loss would've been easier to take than what the Huskers suffered in a 76-74 overtime loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday at the Devaney Center.
With 5.2 seconds left in the overtime period and Nebraska trailing by two, junior guard Ryan Anderson intentionally missed the second of two free throws in the hopes of the Huskers getting the offensive rebound and one last desperation shot at the buzzer.
On a designed play where Anderson intentionally made the ball bounce off the right side of the rim, senior guard Ade Dagunduro was in position to get the rebound but got tied up with OSU's Obi Muonelo on a questionable no-call by the officials. The ball bounced away, the game clock expired, and the Huskers (12-6, 2-3 Big 12 Conference) were left wondering how they let their third Big 12 loss slip away.
"Man, I would rather get beat by 50 than lose by two points or one point, last-second shot," said Miller, who finished with a career-high 19 points. "It's a hard loss. It's a tough loss."
After jumping out to a 7-0 lead to open the game, Nebraska eventually found itself trailing 24-19 following a quick 6-0 run by OSU with 4:40 left in the half. A late 3-pointer by Richardson helped close the deficit to two points 1:20 to go, and it would stay there heading into halftime with the Huskers trailing 29-27.
In the second half, the Cowboys (13-5, 2-2) extended their lead to 40-34 on a 3-pointer by Muonelo with 15:30 left. But the Huskers responded with a 9-2 run behind seven points by Anderson and reclaimed the lead at 43-42 on an Anderson 3 at 12:44.
The teams would trade baskets until Nebraska finally broke away with another scoring run, this time a 14-5 rally that gave it a 60-55 advantage with just under five minutes to play in regulation.
It was this point, however, where Sadler said the Huskers could've sealed the win, but let the opportunity slip away.
Instead, the Cowboys used a 9-2 run to climb their way back and take a 64-62 lead with 1:49 to go. Anderson hit a pair of free throws with 1:25 left to tie the game, but OSU's Terrel Harris hit a spinning lay-up with 45.7 seconds left to go up 66-64.
With 20.5 seconds on the clock, Miller drained two clutch free throws to tie the game at 66-66, and Cowboy point guard Byron Eaton missed a short jumper to send the game into overtime.
The game remained close throughout the extra period, and with 1:02 remaining Dagunduro hit a pair of free throws to bring the Huskers to within one at 74-73. On Oklahoma State's ensuing possession, though, Eaton beat Miller on a drive through the lane for a lay-up to go up 76-73 with 31 seconds on the clock.
The Huskers had a golden opportunity to tie the game with less than 10 seconds left, but Anderson just missed an open 3-pointer from the corner, and Harris came down with the rebound and was fouled and sent to the line with 5.2 to go.
Harris missed his free throw, but the Cowboys fouled Anderson immediately and forced the final free throws.
"As I told the team, this is our third loss (in the Big12), and in all three of them it comes down to the last five minutes," Sadler said. "We've got to execute. We've got to execute. We have zero room for error, and it's the second ball game in a row we probably left 10 points on the court on easy baskets, either on breakaways where did didn't finish, and we can't afford to do that."
Anderson finished with 14 points and eight rebounds for the Huskers, who's road doesn't get any easier with the defending national champion Kansas Jayhawks coming to town on Wednesday. Dagunduro scored 12 points, and senior guard Steve Harley added 10.
"Our guys fought their tails off," Sadler said. "You look at all the hustle plays, all the things - you go back and see how many guys dove on the floor. We had at least two every time there was a loose ball. What more can you ask for? We've just got to execute the last five minutes of a ball game. That comes back to me.
"I can't ask any more out of my team. They're giving me everything."
Questionable final play didn't decide game
For obvious reasons of not wanting any repercussions from the Big 12, Sadler declined to comment about the final play in which it appeared Dagunduro was fouled by Muonelo on an offensive rebound.
However, Dagunduro didn't mind throwing in his two cents on the play.
"I got the rebound, and
I got fouled," he said. "I got the rebound, and as soon as I retrieved possession, they was swiping at my hands and I was hoping we'd get the call, but we didn't get the call."
Even so, Dagunduro said the final play was not the deciding factor between a win and a loss on Saturday.
"That's not the reason we lost," he said. "We can't put it on that last play. We just collapsed at the end."
Sadler had no intentions of playing Diaz
There was much speculation of whether Sadler would use Saturday's game to throw freshman center Brian Diaz into the mix, but apparently the thought never really crossed his mind.
Though Oklahoma State outscored Nebraska 40-16 in the paint, Sadler said Diaz is still nowhere near ready mentally to take the court against Big 12 competition, especially considering that he just got to Lincoln a week ago and has had a total of four practices with the team.
"I don't think it's fair to put Brian in there," Sadler said. "He's practiced four times, and I mean, there's a lot of things happening out there defensively. Offensively, he's good. But there's just way too many things, people are running double screens ad back screening, and guys know how to play with one another. It's just not fair to Brian to put him in a situation, I mean, we have not even covered back screens with him, or ball screens or anything like that."
Richardson returns after injury
After missing the past four games due to a shoulder injury, redshirt freshman guard Brandon Richardson returned to action on Saturday, scoring eight points in 15 minutes of playing time.
Both Richardson and Sadler hoped he would've been able to play longer, but he re-aggravated his injured shoulder after colliding with Harley on a screen and landing on it while diving for a loose ball early in the second half.
"We could've used him," Sadler said. "Brandon's a good player, and he's going to show you that he's a good player."
For Richardson, just getting back onto the court after riding the bench the past four games was a good feeling, even though it came in a loss.
"I didn't know I was going to be back this soon," Richardson said. "I can't even explain it. I'm just glad to be back."
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