February 28, 2009

KSU hands Huskers another heartbreaker, 77-72

MANHATTAN, Kan. - Nebraska head coach Doc Sadler could only stand before his team and try to assure them that something good had to happen for them one of these days.

Unfortunately, that day wasn't Saturday. Despite hanging in until the final seconds, the Huskers couldn't find a way to come from behind and pull off a victory against Kansas State, as they were handed their third loss in as many games, 77-72.

Trailing by seven with 3 minutes, 30 seconds to play, the Huskers battled back to cut the deficit to at least three points four different times, but they couldn't get any closer than that. Kansas State made its free throws, and Nebraska (16-11overall, 6-8 Big 12 Conference) simply couldn't make enough big plays down the stretch.

"It's the same old story every game," Sadler said. "I can't be any prouder of a group of guys for giving it everything they've got. Like I told them (in the locker room), if we continue to do that, we're going to be rewarded. It's hard to understand right now… The frustrating thing is these guys have given everything they've got, and they're not getting rewarded for it with wins. That's the frustrating thing.

"We're starting to do some good things that we haven't been doing, and it's a good sign. Some good things could still happen for us. We're playing too hard not to be rewarded eventually."

After leading by two to start the second half, one of the most detrimental stretches of the game for NU came with roughly 10 minutes remaining in the game. Up 50-49 with 11:59 on the clock, the Wildcats (20-9, 8-6) were able to piece together a 9-0 run with the help of five straight Husker turnovers to take a 58-50 lead with eight minutes to go.

While Nebraska was able to fight back and bring the game back to within one possession several times down the stretch, it simply couldn't recover from that run, as NU never saw the lead again the rest of the game.

"That was a big, big stretch," Sadler said. "But that's just the way it is. We had some young guys in the game, and we didn't handle it like we have to on the road."

The closest the Huskers came to reclaiming the lead late in the game came when junior guard Ryan Anderson hit a clutch 3-pointer with 1:55 to play to cut the deficit to 69-67. But after a basket by KSU's Darren Kent, senior guard Ade Dagunduro was called for a questionable charging foul with 1:06 to go on a play that would've resulted in a lay-up.

The call gave Dagunduro his fifth and final foul, and he was forced to watch the game's last minute from the bench after scoring 16 points and hauling in a team-high seven rebounds.

With their senior leader out of the game, the Huskers made one last attempt at a comeback when sophomore guard Cookie Miller hit a 3 with 12.8 seconds remaining to make the score 73-70. However, the Wildcats went a perfect 4-of-4 from the free throw line in the final 10 seconds to seal the win and send Nebraska home with yet another heartbreaking loss.

"I think that's what made it that much more depressing, that we withstood the crowd and had a chance to win it but came up short again," Dagunduro said. "No matter what happens, me and the rest of the seniors are going to go out on top. I can't be more proud of the way this team plays and hangs in there each game."

Despite trailing early 11-4 to open the game, Nebraska battled back and eventually reclaimed the lead at 18-16 with a 3-pointer by Dagunduro with just under 10 minutes to go. The lead changed hands five more times before Anderson drained a 3 with just 1.7 seconds on the clock to send the Huskers into halftime with a 32-30 advantage.

Anderson led the way for Nebraska with a season-high 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting, while Miller added 14 points and seven assists. Kansas State's Jacob Pullen scored 18 points, as he was one of four Wildcats to score in double figures.

With just two regular season games remaining, the window for Nebraska to sneak into the NCAA Tournament appears to be officially slammed shut. Even so, the Huskers will be looking to find a way to end the year on a high note, as they head back to Lincoln for their final home game Wednesday against Iowa State.

For the Huskers, it's all about playing from pride from here on out.

"I believe in my team," Anderson said. "It's been a pleasure to play with the guys I've been playing with this year. I'll die for those guys. I love them."

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