Nebraska shot nearly 54 percent from the floor in the second half and opened a 13-point lead with more than 14 minutes to go, but it was six straight Brandon Richardson free throws in the final 20 seconds that helped the Cornhuskers ease past Tulsa, 74-70, in the second game of the day at the HoopTV Las Vegas Classic.
The crowd on hand at the Orleans Arena witnessed a see-saw battle as there were six ties and seven lead changes, with the most important one coming right after the intermission. After baskets by each squad made it a 33-33 contest in the opening seconds of the period, Ryan Anderson drained a 3-pointer with 19:11 to play to put the Cornhuskers up for good.
Tulsa center Jerome Jordan, a 7-footer who most experts expect to go in the first round of this year’s NBA Draft, added his second quick basket to cut the lead to one, but NU responded with authority. The Husker defense kicked it up a notch to help run off an 8-0 surge and put the Huskers ahead 44-35 on Ray Gallegos’ jumper with 16:42 to play.
During the Husker three-minute surge, the Golden Hurricane had just two shots, missing both, and added a turnover. On the other end of the court, NU hit three of its next four shots and added two free throws before UT’s Ben Uzoh knocked down a basket to snap the run. It was a sign of things to come as Uzoh had 16 points after the break to finish with a game-high 23 on 7-of-15 shooting.
Sek Henry added two of his eight second-half points and Lance Jeter had a basket before a pair of Anderson free throws made it a 13-point Husker advantage, 50-37, with 14:37 to play. Once the Huskers picked up the largest lead of the game for either team, Tulsa went into a zone defense that stifled the Husker run. Nebraska scored just one point over the next six minutes as UT fought its way back into the contest.
Jordan capped a 7-1 run that cut the NU lead to 51-44 before Eshaunte Jones snapped the Huskers’ scoring woes. Jones hit his second 3-pointer of the contest at the 8:38 mark, breaking a field-goal drought that started at the 15:27 mark on Jeter’s basket.
Jones kept answering as UT crept closer. He hit his second trey of the period nearly two minutes later to give Nebraska a 57-49 lead with less than seven minutes to play before Uzoh cut the Husker lead to two points, 61-59, with a 3-pointer at the 4:03 mark. Uzoh scored 10 of 13 points in the stretch, but the Golden Hurricane could not get over the hump.
Nebraska answered with a Jeter layup and forced a bad shot on the defensive end before Jones put down his career-high fourth 3-pointer of the game to quickly extend the lead out to seven. Tulsa cut it to three points three more times and made its last surge to within two points in the final seconds before Richardson iced the game.
The sophomore from Los Angeles hit all six of his attempts from the charity stripe in the final 20 seconds, including a pair of clutch 1-and-1s that put the game out of reach. After going just 1-of-3 at the line in the first period, Nebraska finished hitting 11-of-13 at the stripe in the second period. NU needed every last one as Tulsa was 16-of-17 at the free throw line.
The Huskers hit 47.4 percent (27-of-57) from the field including 42.1 percent (8-of-21) from 3-point range to knock off the Conference USA favorites. Nebraska also outrebounded the Golden Hurricane, 33-27, including a dominating 14-8 advantage on the offensive glass.
Jones led the way with 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting from outside the arc. Jones’ offensive performance off the bench was a common theme. Richardson had nine points while Brandon Ubel added eight points on 3-of-5 shooting, including a pair of 3-pointers, as the Husker bench outscored UT’s 32-15.
Diaz and Anderson added 11 points each while combining for 13 rebounds. Anderson also added four steals on the game and Diaz had two blocked shots.
Along with Uzoh, Justin Hurtt had 14 points while Jordan finished with 10 points and nine rebounds, including all four of his field goals in the second half.
While Nebraska had a strong shooting percentage, it didn’t start out that way as the Husker offense got off to a sluggish start. Tulsa jumped out to a quick 9-2 lead with less than three minutes off the clock despite some good looks by the Huskers.
The Huskers finally started to settle into the game, adding two straight baskets, including the second bucket of the day by Diaz and a transition basket from Anderson off a nice full-court pass from Jeter to pull within three. A flurry of 3-pointers then helped the Cornhuskers get the upperhand as Nebraska pushed in three treys in less than 90 seconds to bust out a 10-0 run.
Richardson started the surge with his only basket of the game, a 3-pointer at the 13:37 mark, and Jones added one of his first triple just 31 seconds later to give Nebraska its first lead of the game. Ubel capped the run with a wide-open 3-pointer with 12:22 to play in the half.
Nebraska’s run came about as a result of its solid defense, which entered the game No. 1 in the nation. The Huskers led the country by allowing just 53.5 points per game entering the week and showed exactly how they got their ranking as they held Tulsa without a basket for more than nine minutes before an Uzoh bucket at the 8:04 mark. That was UT’s first bucket since the 12:44 mark.
Despite the field-goal drought, he Golden Hurricane still managed to hit 47.6 percent (10-of-21) from the floor in the opening period. Nebraska hit just 41.9 percent (13-of-31) percent on its end and held a 19-12 advantage on the glass.
Ubel ended the period with the Huskers’ last two baskets, hitting his second 3-pointer of the game with 2:03 to play to pull the Huskers back to even at 29-29. Uzoh drained a shot with just less than 50 seconds remaining in the period to go back up, but Ubel responded once more. After being denied on the perimeter, he put the ball on the floor and drove to the lane where he banked in a nifty shot to tie the game with just four seconds left in the period.
With the victory, the Huskers improved to 9-2 on the season while Tulsa (9-2) fell for just the second time this season. Nebraska returns to action on Wednesday, Dec. 23, with their final game of the HoopTV Las Vegas Classic as the Huskers take on BYU, a 110-104 winner over Nevada in the first game of the day on Tuesday.
The Huskers and Cougars will face off at 7:30 p.m. PT (9:30 p.m. CT) in the championship game at the Orleans Arena.