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November 13, 2008Some may have been a bit surprised when redshirt freshman guard Toney McCray kicked off the season with a game-high 18 points in Nebraska's exhibition win over Chadron State last Friday.
Sure, some might have. But he certainly wasn't.
Despite having never played in a live collegiate game prior to the exhibition, McCray looked like a natural with the basketball, making key jumpers and creating shots for himself off the dribble with apparent ease.
Based on his debut performance and the fact that the Huskers really don't have an established go-to guy on offense yet, Friday may have only been the beginning of more to come for the Missouri City, Texas, native.
"I don't want to say surprised, because I expect it," McCray said. "I was pretty much comfortable and got a feel for the game. When we was in the scrimmage (against Marquette), I got good idea of how fast it was going to be, so I wasn't surprised."
McCray's scoring ability has been well known since he became the final signee of NU's '07 class. As a senior at Fort Bend Elkins (Texas) High School, he averaged 16 points and shot better than 50 percent from the floor.
Last week, McCray connected on 6-of-8 shooting from the field while adding a game-high seven rebounds with three steals in just 18 minutes of action.
Though McCray looked like he could potentially be one of the Huskers' top scoring threats this season, he said his goal is to take on whatever role helps the team the most each game.
"I'm just doing what I have to do to help the team out as much as I can," he said. "Coach put me in some good positions to score the ball on Friday, so if that were to happen again I'd take advantage of it. If not, then I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get a win."
Last Friday wasn't a perfect night for McCray, however. After watching film from the game, he said he was disappointed with his play defensively, saying that the same mistakes he made during the offseason occasionally surfaced against Chadron State.
"Watching a little bit of tape, defensively I wasn't very good," he said. "I had four fouls, and that's something I've been concentrating the most on in practice. Just trying to keep my hands off and play inside my feet."
McCray said he's well aware that in playing for Sadler, defense comes before anything else.
"You've got to (play good defense) with Doc," McCray said. "That's all he does is work on defense 90 percent of the time. Defense is something that we always try to work on, but myself, I don't know, I just have to get better at defense. Everyday we work on it, so I should be a lot better at it than what I did on Friday."
San Jose State no slouch
Sunday's season opener against San Jose State might seem like a nice warm-up game for Nebraska to kickoff the year, but according to head coach Doc Sadler, there's nothing easy about playing the Spartans.
Returning all five starters from a team that defeated the likes of Nevada, Fresno State and Utah State late in the season last year, San Jose State should be anything but a cake walk for the Huskers when the two teams meet Sunday at the Devaney Center at 2 p.m.
"They're going to be a good test," Sadler said. "They're a good basketball team. The unfortunate thing is I don't think people around here know anything about them. Believe me, when you've beaten Nevada and Fresno, Utah State, teams like that late in the year (last season) and you return all five starters, you've got a good basketball team."
The biggest challenge the Spartans present to Nebraska is their size and talent in the post. Led by 6-foot-9, 255-pound junior center C.J. Webster, who led SJSU last year with 11.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, the Spartans feature six players 6-8 or taller on their roster.
Nebraska, on the other hand, has just two, with 6-9 sophomore Alex Chapman still unable to play while recovering from offseason knee surgery.
San Jose State also showed last season that it has no difficulty competing for all 40 minutes, as the Spartans were able to win nine games in 2007 by four points or less.
"Obviously it's going to be a good test, because those guys are good players," Sadler said. "They're just big, and they can score. They got great hands, great feet, and they've played a lot of basketball. It's not going to be their first game when they come here. They've gone through it there, and they're good players."
***Sadler said the main point of emphasis for the Huskers this week in practice has been cleaning up their play in the half-court offense. He said there were several times last week where he felt NU rushed shots because plays didn't develop well at first.
"The thing that we've seen we have to work on is our half-court offense, and we've done that the past three days," he said. "We've just got to continue to get better in those two areas, our full-court and half-court offense, and defensively keep working and we should be alright."
***Despite breakout games by McCray and freshman guard Eshaunte Jones (16 points, thee assists) against Chadron State, Sadler said the two would see the same amount of playing time off the bench on Sunday as they did last Friday. McCray played 18 minutes against the Eagles, why Jones played 16.
***Fans should notice a new touch to the Devaney Center court on Sunday, as video screens have been installed at the base of each basket and directly behind the backboard on the frame of the basket, with two screens facing toward the sidelines.
The screens will display different sponsor logos, the "Click it or Ticket" slogan and a red Nebraska "N".
Before Thursday's practice, several players commented on the new additions, generally giving them their seal of approval, though some said they might be a bit distracting at first.
Junior forward Chris Balham gave some fair warning about the placement of the screens on top of the basket frames, though.
"I don't know why they put them there," he joked. "They're just going to break off when I dunk it. They're going to be mad at me."a