January 26, 2015

Petteway, Shields power Huskers to 79-77 win over Spartans

On an afternoon honoring Nebraska assistant coach Chris Harriman’s son Avery and other children who’ve battled cancer, it took a strong performance from Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields to will the Huskers to victory.

“Our fans are so great and certainly tonight with the cause and the Harriman family, especially Avery,” Nebraska head coach Tim Miles said. “The strength and resolve they’ve shown and the lessons they’ve shown our players, it was such a neat night.”

Avery Harriman was quite happy with the outcome of the game and excited to see so many in attendance throughout the arena wearing the ‘Avery Strong’ t-shirts.

The student sections sporting gold "Avery Strong" t shirts for Avery Harriman, son of Nebraska assistant coach Chris Harriman before tip off against Michigan State on Saturday

The student sections sporting gold “Avery Strong” t shirts for Avery Harriman, son of Nebraska assistant coach Chris Harriman before tip off against Michigan State on Saturday

“It was great. I saw many ‘Avery’ shirts, I was so impressed by it. I couldn’t believe everyone wore my shirts, but I was so proud,” Avery said. “Thanks for everyone wearing my shirts.”

Coach Chris Harriman was certainly emotional seeing so much support for not only Avery, but other children who’ve needed bone marrow surgeries. Harriman was especially touched when the student section started the ‘Avery strong’ chant.

“It was just tremendous, just so many people supporting my son and the other children that were there, it was truly a night that I’ll never, ever forget,” Harriman said.

“I feel like as a coach and a player, I’ve been in a lot of big games and big wins. But this one was really special.”

Petteway finished with 32 points while Shields added 21 as Nebraska knocked off Michigan State 79-77 on Saturday afternoon. Despite being out-rebounded 48-26 by the Spartans, the Huskers made it count at the free throw line where they hit just enough down the stretch to pull out the victory. For the game, Nebraska was 29-of-37 at the line, while Michigan State struggled at 15-for-25.

Terran Petteway passes to Shavon Shields (31) during Nebraska's 79-77 win over Michigan State on Saturday. Petteway and Shields led the Huskers with 32 and 21 points, respectively PHOTO COURTESY: HUSKERS.COM

Terran Petteway passes to Shavon Shields (31) during Nebraska’s 79-77 win over Michigan State on Saturday. Petteway and Shields led the Huskers with 32 and 21 points, respectively
PHOTO COURTESY: HUSKERS.COM

The Huskers had to play most of the contest without forward Walter Pitchford, who was ejected for a flagrant two level foul with 16:20 left in the first half. Pitchford threw a right elbow at the head of Spartans’ forward Matt Costello and was tossed after officials reviewed the play.

“I thought Walt deserved to get kicked out,” Miles said of the technical on Pitchford. “I know he’s sorry for that mistake, but you don’t do that. That’s uncalled for. Walt will learn from that.”

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo thought the Pitchford technical helped put an extra spring in Nebraska’s step, which translated into a big Husker run in the first half.

“I just thought in a little way it energized them and the calls went different after that, I think they normally do,” Izzo said. “We had a gamplan going in with him, nothing major, we just didn’t respond I think.”

Forward David Rivers also missed the entire game after suffering a left knee injury in practice earlier in the week, which forced Leslee Smith into the starting lineup. Smith responded with seven points and seven rebounds in 30 minutes of game action, by far the most minutes he’s seen since returning from a torn ACL injury that saw him miss all of the non-conference portion of Nebraska’s season.

Miles was impressed with the contributions from his bench, including from Tai Webster.

“What I see is Tai playing his butt off. I thought he used to play with a little bit of cool to him, and you can’t be cool and play,” Miles said.

“He’s playing his butt off and that’s what matters.”

Nebraska (12-7, 4-3) held a 39-25 lead at halftime thanks to the play of Petteway and Shields. Petteway hit back-to-back three pointers during a 15-2 run that put the Huskers ahead 35-20 with 3:24 left in the opening half and carried the 14 point lead into the break. Petteway’s eight-footer from the baseline with six seconds left in the half gave him 15 points for the half, as Shields wasn’t far behind with 13 points and four rebounds. Webster saw 13 minutes of game action and added five points in the first half as the Huskers built their lead.

Nebraska football coach Mike Riley (wearing black) and athletic director Shawn Eichorst (right) celebrate the first Nebraska basket of the game during the Huskers' 79-77 win over Michigan State PHOTO COURTESY: HUSKERS.COM

Nebraska football coach Mike Riley (wearing black) and athletic director Shawn Eichorst (right) celebrate the first Nebraska basket of the game during the Huskers’ 79-77 win over Michigan State
PHOTO COURTESY: HUSKERS.COM

Michigan State (13-7, 4-3) would eventually trim the Nebraska lead to six after the Huskers had opened up a 45-28 lead early in the second half. Travis Trice’s three-pointer made it a 47-41 ball game with 11:55 remaining, but Nebraska responded with an 11-2 run, with Petteway’s three-pointer extending the Husker lead to 58-43 with 7:17 to play. The Spartans would hang around and closed the gap to 79-77 with 2.2 seconds remaining, but Shields threw a long in bounds pass into the front court for Benny Parker, who tipped the ball before Trice controlled it. However time ticked away and Michigan State could not get a shot off before time expired.

Izzo lamented his team’s shortcomings on Saturday, but praised Nebraska for making big shots and making their free throws when it counted.

“When you have 11 turnovers and you miss 11 free throws, you just aren’t going to win on the road against good teams,” Izzo said of the loss.

“Here is a team (Nebraska) that shoots 62 percent in Big Ten play, you have to give them credit because they made every free throw and shot their best percentage of the year.”

Besides Petteway and Shields, Webster played perhaps his best game of the season, adding 13 points and three rebounds as the Huskers searched for a third scorer after Pitchford’s ejection early in the game.

“It’s tough. It has actually been a really tough experience for me,” Webster said of his decreased role in previous games. “That is definitely something new.”

“I’m having a lot of fun now. I’ve had more fun now than I’ve ever had playing basketball at the moment.”

Avery Harriman (middle) joins Shavon Shields (left) and Terran Petteway (right) in the post-game press conference after Nebraska's 79-77 win over Michigan State

Avery Harriman (middle) joins Shavon Shields (left) and Terran Petteway (right) in the post-game press conference after Nebraska’s 79-77 win over Michigan State

Petteway was impressed with how the bench lifted up the starters and played big minutes, considering they had lost two members of their starting lineup for most of the game.

“The bench play had to be big tonight. We couldn’t have just me, Shavon, or just our starting five scoring or whatever you want to call it,” Petteway said. “They came in and gave us great minutes.”

Trice led the Spartans with 27 points, but needed 24 shot attempts in the process while Denzel Valentine added 21. Branden Dawson nearly outrebounded Nebraska by himself, grabbing 18 rebounds to go along with eight points. Michigan State became just the second team to score more than 70 points against the Huskers this season, the other being Incarnate Word back on December 10.

The Huskers face Michigan in Ann Arbor on Tuesday night, while Michigan State is also on the road Tuesday night at Rutgers.

 

Defense stars again for Huskers in 52-49 win over Gophers

Three times in the final 16 seconds, Minnesota had a chance to tie the game against Nebraska on Tuesday night. Three times, the Gophers couldn’t knock down a game-tying three-pointer and the Huskers scraped by once again thanks to a suffocating defense.

Andre Hollins, Carlos Morris, and DeAndre Mathieu each saw their three-point attempts miss in the final seconds as Nebraska came away with a 52-49 win over Minnesota at the Pinnacle Bank Arena. The Huskers’ defense helped them overcome another sluggish offensive performance as Nebraska (11-7, 3-3) held Minnesota (12-8, 1-6) to just 30.8% shooting from the field and forced 16 Gopher turnovers. However, Nebraska couldn’t pull away and saw their own offense struggle in a whistle-heavy game that saw a combined 43 personal fouls and technical fouls on the Huskers’ Walter Pitchford and Shavon Shields in the second half.

Although the win wasn’t pretty, Nebraska head coach Tim Miles was happy his team was able to grind out another Big Ten victory.

“We couldn’t even make free throws tonight, either team couldn’t,” Miles said. “But our crowd loved it. They love that Blackshirt defense. I don’t know what we are, but I’m glad they’re cheering for us.”

Nebraska's Terran Petteway reacts after making a three-pointer in the first half, giving him over 1,000 career points during Nebraska's 52-49 win over Minnesota PHOTO COURTESY: HUSKERS.COM

Nebraska’s Terran Petteway reacts after making a three-pointer in the first half, giving him over 1,000 career points during Nebraska’s 52-49 win over Minnesota
PHOTO COURTESY: HUSKERS.COM

Shields scored 13 of his team-high 15 points in the second half in addition to seven rebounds to help Nebraska scratch out their third win in their last four games. Terran Petteway didn’t score for the final 18:29 of the contest, but finished with 11 points as Nebraska committed 15 turnovers of their own and shot 40.5% from the floor.

Overall, it was probably not the most aesthetically pleasing performance, but Petteway says a win counts no matter how it happens.”

“Ugly,” Petteway said of the victory. “We did some good things in that game, and we did some bad things in that game, but we will take it. We have to build on this. Now is the time we have to make our run.”

Nebraska’s offense was not pretty, but it did get little contributions up and down its roster, such as Walter Pitchford’s six points and 11 rebounds, Tarin Smith’s six points and three rebounds in 29 minutes of action, and Benny Parker’s 6-for-6 performance at the free throw line in the second half with the game on the line.

Petteway’s first three-pointer of the game, early in the first half, put him above the 1,000 career-point mark. The junior from Galveston, Texas, scored just 88 points during his freshman season with Texas Tech, but has now scored 920 points with Nebraska for a running total of 1,008.

“It’s just 1,000 points,” Petteway said of the accomplishment. “I’ll be happy when we get some wins, like a Big Ten championship, or in a tournament.”

A big reason for Nebraska’s defensive success, especially in the second half, was the play of sophomore guard Tai Webster. Webster, who’d only played a combined 12 minutes in Nebraska’s three previous games, was instrumental in slowing down Hollins in the second half. Webster played 16 minutes on Tuesday night and finished with two points and three rebounds.

“Tai Webster coming off the bench really did a good job on him. I really commend Tai,” Miles said. “He had practiced really well on the scout team. He hadn’t even practiced with the top guys.”

Nebraska's Tarin Smith converts on a layup attempt in the second half of Nebraska's 52-49 victory over Minnesota PHOTO COURTESY: HUSKERS.COM

Nebraska’s Tarin Smith converts on a lay up attempt in the second half of Nebraska’s 52-49 victory over Minnesota
PHOTO COURTESY: HUSKERS.COM

“I just liked his body language in practice, and I liked his pace. I thought he was more aggressive and felt better.”

Neither team led by double figures as it proved to be a defensive struggle throughout. Nebraska held its largest lead at 15-7 after Tai Webster’s lay up in transition with 11:36 remaining in the first half. Minnesota would respond however, with a better close to the first half, as the Gophers took a 25-24 lead into halftime. Five of Minnesota’s eight made field goals in the first 20 minutes were three pointers, with four of them coming from Hollins who finished with a game-high 21 points. The two teams would trade sporadic baskets throughout much of the second half, although Nebraska was unable to make a field goal in the final 8:01 and relied on 11 free throws to get the victory.

The loss drops Minnesota to 1-6 in league play, with five of their six losses coming by a combined 16 points. It was another frustrating loss for Minnesota and head coach Richard Pitino.

“I thought with this game, more than anything, we were executing really well and getting some open looks,” Pitino said. “I think we have to shore up our free throws.”

“Really can’t miss ten free throws like that on the road and expect to win.”

Pitchford picked up a technical foul with 13:28 remaining after officials ruled he had pushed DeAndre Mathieu down out-of-bounds after the whistle had blown. Shields would pick up his technical at the 8:51 mark after reacting to being called for a personal foul. The Gophers wouldn’t trail by more than six the rest of the way and trimmed the deficit to 43-42 after Joey King’s jumper with 4:32 remaining. But the Nebraska defense held strong and Parker and Shields provided big free throws to give the Huskers just enough breathing room.

The freshman Smith saw the most extensive playing time of his young career and helped stabilize a Nebraska offense that struggled to break Minnesota’s constant full-court pressure and double-teaming in the first half. Smith says for the most part, they were able to handle pressure from the Gophers.

“I thought we dealt with it pretty well. At the beginning, it was a little shaky, but I thought as the game went on we got better,” Smith said. “We started attacking a lot better.”

Tim Miles spells out instructions for his team during the second half of Nebraska's 52-49 victory over Minnesota on Tuesday night PHOTO COURTESY: HUSKERS.COM

Tim Miles spells out instructions for his team during the second half of Nebraska’s 52-49 victory over Minnesota on Tuesday night
PHOTO COURTESY: HUSKERS.COM

Smith also sang the praises of the defense, who held another Big Ten opponent to under 50 points for the third straight time at the Pinnacle Bank Arena. The Huskers also held Rutgers and Illinois to 49 and 43 points, respectively.

“I thought we did a good job on the screens and helping on the screens. I thought that was pretty big. They were throwing a lot of ball screens,” Smith noted. “They ran a lot of off-ball screens for their shooters. I think that was big.”

Eight different Huskers scored in the game, with 12 of their 17 made field goals coming on assists. While Nebraska struggled early at the foul line, they finished 14-of-21 for the game while Minnesota was an abysmal 9-of-19. Nebraska continues Big Ten play at home when they host Michigan State on Saturday at 3 p.m. Minnesota returns home to Minneapolis to host Illinois on Saturday at 1:15 p.m.

Pierson-El named Freshman All-American for special teams

De'Mornay Pierson-El (Photo Courtesy Scott Bruhn/NU Media Relations)

De’Mornay Pierson-El (Photo Courtesy Scott Bruhn/NU Media Relations)

De’Mornay Pierson-El was named the punt returner on the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) Freshman All-America team.

Pierson-El returned 34 punts for 596 yards in 2014, returning three punts for touchdowns while averaging 17.5 yards per return. Pierson-El led the nation with his 596 return yards, 194 more yards than any other returner. He also tied for the national lead with his three punt returns for touchdowns, while ranking second in punt return average. Pierson-El led all freshmen nationally in punt return yards, punt return average and punt return touchdowns. He boasted two of the nation’s eight-longest punt returns in 2014, and he was the only player in the country with a pair of 80-yard returns.

A native of Alexandria, Va., Pierson-El set Nebraska freshman records for longest punt return, most punt return yards, most punt return touchdowns and highest punt return average. Overall, Pierson-El’s 596 punt return yards ranked third in school history, while his three punt return touchdowns tied 1972 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers for the second-highest total in Husker history.

UNK’s Manhart and NU’s Anderson to play in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl

Cole Manhart. (photo/UNK Athletics, Colby Dorsey)

Cole Manhart. (photo/UNK Athletics, Colby Dorsey)

Nebraska Kearney senior offensive linemen Cole Manhart is one of 10 Division II players taking part in this Saturday’s NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in Carson, CA.  Manhart is on the “National” team coached by former NFL head coach Mike Martz. Manhart’s teammate is Nebraska linebacker Zaire Anderson.  The game kicks off Saturday at 3:00 p.m. Central and can be seen live on ESPN 2.

New defensive coordinator Mark Banker could get some outside help at the linebacker position.  Kaiwan Lewis, a regular contributor at linebacker for South Carolina, is transferring from the Gamecocks, and Nebraska is on his short list.  Lewis is graduating from USC and has a year of eligibility remaining.  Lewis is also looking at Rutgers and Penn State maybe some West Coast programs.

Despite offensive struggles, Nebraska holds off Illinois 53-43

When it mattered most, Nebraska turned once again to Terran Petteway. The junior guard didn’t disappoint as he helped Nebraska even its mark in Big Ten play through four games after defeating Illinois on Sunday night.

Petteway finished with a game-high 18 points and hit double figures for the 27th consecutive game as the Huskers held off the Illini 53-43 to move to 10-6 overall and 2-2 in league play. Nebraska held Rutgers to 49 points in a win on Thursday night and used tough defense once again to stifle Illinois, as the Illini shot just 27.3 percent from the floor and made only 6-of-29 three-point attempts in failing to keep momentum from an upset of Maryland earlier in the week.

“I mean you can’t play much better defense than what we did. We weren’t awful turning the ball over, and we were shooting at a decent percentage,” Nebraska head coach Tim Miles said.  “It was just one of those nights.”

Nebraska's Terran Petteway drives to the basket for two of his team-high 18 points during the Huskers' 53-43 win over Illinois  PHOTO COURTESY: HUSKERS.COM

Nebraska’s Terran Petteway drives to the basket for two of his team-high 18 points during the Huskers’ 53-43 win over Illinois
PHOTO COURTESY: HUSKERS.COM

“I was very proud of our guys. I thought they played extremely hard and stayed with it.”

The Huskers (10-6, 2-2) held a 28-22 lead at halftime as Shavon Shields scored seven first half points as Illinois connected on only 28 percent of their shots from the floor. The Illini settled for the three-point shot throughout the game and particularly in the first half, making only 3-of-17 attempts. Nebraska led by as many as seven in the first half and couldn’t shake the Illini until the final moments of the game when they salted it away at the free throw line. Petteway was a mere 2-of-6 from the field in the first half, but took control in the second half to help Nebraska get the victory.

It’s a stark change from less than a week ago for the Huskers, who were sitting at 0-2 to start Big Ten play after a 70-59 loss at Iowa last Monday. Shields says the team has responded and looked like a new squad, especially with the returns of Moses Abraham and Leslee Smith to the lineup.

“Day and night. It is a big difference from losing to winning. I think there is a lot of confidence in the locker room. We just need to keep building off that.”

Shields cracked double figures once again with 11 points and eight rebounds, while David Rivers had a solid night with eight points and seven rebounds to lead a balanced scoring effort behind Petteway. The Huskers were also able to outrebound Illinois to the tune of 38-30, improving on their last outing against Rutgers in which the Scarlet Knights held a 39-31 advantage. The Huskers shot just 42.9% from the floor and made 6-of-17 from three-point range, with Petteway making four of Nebraska’s three-pointers in addition to one from Shields and one from Walter Pitchford.

Illinois head coach John Groce thought his team’s effort matched that from the Illini’s 64-57 upset win over Maryland last Wednesday, but the shots just wouldn’t fall against Nebraska’s tough defense.

“I thought the carryover was identical. I thought our effort was tremendous and our focus and concentration and scouting was tremendous,” Groce said. “We just didn’t make shots tonight and ran into a very-very good defensive ball club.”

“I think they clamped down a little bit more in the second half and we ran out of gas.”

Petteway’s second three-pointer of the second half stretched Nebraska’s lead to 34-24 with 16:50 left to play, but Illinois wouldn’t go away quite yet. A jumper from Petteway extended the lead to 40-29, but the Illini answered with a three-pointer from Aaron Cosby to trim the lead to 40-32 with 10:42 remaining and Maverick Morgan’s put back made it a 40-34 game with 9:50 remaining. Shields answered with a jumper and the teams traded baskets until Petteway’s final three-pointer put the Huskers ahead 49-38 with 3:29 to play. Shields and Petteway added two free throws apiece for the final points to cap off Nebraska’s second-straight victory.

Forward David Rivers opens the scoring for the Huskers with two of his eight points during Nebraska's 53-43 win over Illinois on Sunday PHOTO COURTESY: HUSKERS.COM

Forward David Rivers opens the scoring for the Huskers with two of his eight points during Nebraska’s 53-43 win over Illinois on Sunday
PHOTO COURTESY: HUSKERS.COM

Nebraska’s defensive effort was its best in terms of field goal percentage since it allowed Grambling State to connect on 25 percent of their field goal attempts in a 79-39 Nebraska rout back on December 21, 2010. It’s the lowest percentage an opposing team has shot against the Huskers since Tim Miles arrived in Lincoln three seasons ago.

Perhaps no one has played more efficiently than Rivers, who finished 4-of-6 from the field in addition to one assist. The addition of Abraham and Smith to the lineup has helped the senior forward stay out of foul trouble after fouling out against both Indiana and Iowa to start conference play. Rivers says the team defense has continued to evolve for the Huskers.

“I think our screen and roll defense was good tonight and that was something we were working on. That was a big key for us coming into this game. Screen and roll defense.

After the game, Avery Harriman, the seven-year-old son of Nebraska assistant Chris Harriman, joined Rivers and Shavon Shields at Nebraska’s post-game press conference. Avery, who has been battling leukemia, had good news this week with no evidence of cancer in his second biopsy. Avery was very happy with Nebraska’s victory.

“My favorite play was the players doing great. They did super awesome on the game–on the game tonight. I am so proud of them,” Avery said.

Avery Harriman (red shirt, front row) looks on as Shavon Shields and Nebraska battled against Illinois on Sunday night at the Pinnacle Bank Arena.  PHOTO COURTSEY: HUSKERS.COM

Avery Harriman (red shirt, front row) looks on as Shavon Shields and Nebraska battled against Illinois on Sunday night at the Pinnacle Bank Arena.
PHOTO COURTSEY: HUSKERS.COM

“I was shooting my free throws at the end of the game, and I heard Avery saying ‘come on Shavon!,’ That was my favorite,” Shields said. “Ecstatic that he is cancer free and we can go play golf this summer again, it is going to be awesome.”

Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn led Illinois (11-6, 1-3) with 12 points apiece, with Aaron Cosby adding seven points in the losing effort. Nebraska plays next at Wisconsin on Thursday night at 8 p.m., with the fifth-ranked Badgers fresh off a 67-62 upset loss to Rutgers. The Huskers’ next game at home is on January 20 against Minnesota with Michigan State coming to the Pinnacle Bank Arena on January 24. Illinois will look to rebound against Northwestern on Wednesday night in Evanston.