Not even a career night from Ray Gallegos could overcome Nebraska’s sluggish offensive start, as the Huskers fell to UTEP, 68-52, in the championship game of the WestStar Bank Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational Sunday evening.
Gallegos finished with a career-high 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting to lead all scorers, but Nebraska dug too deep of hole in the opening five minutes against the Miners, who snapped Nebraska’s two-game win streak.
The first half was one to forget for the Huskers, as Nebraska was just 6-of-27 in the opening period as UTEP built a 36-16 advantage. Jacques Streeter had 11 first-half points on 4-of-5 shooting while Konner Tucker had all eight of his first-half points the first four minutes of the contest.
One night after scoring the first 10 points, Nebraska fell behind quickly 13-0, as the Huskers missed their first seven shot and had three turnovers in the first 10 possessions. UTEP relied on the sharp-shooting of Tucker, who scored eight early points, including a pair of long 3-pointers, as UTEP built a 13-0 lead.
Tucker finished with 17 points, including 5-of-7 from 3-point range to earn tournament MVP honors, while Streeter also added 17 for UTEP, which improved to 6-5 on the year. The Miners have won three of its last four games since Tucker made his season debut on Monday.
Mike Peltz finally ended the Husker drought with a basket 6:29 into the contest before Gallegos finally got Nebraska’s offense going with a pair of jumpers to pull Nebraska within 15-7. Nebraska was within 22-13 after an Almeida putback, but went ice cold over the final 6:40 of the half, as UTEP closed the half on a 14-1 run to build a 20-point lead. Streeter keyed the run with a four-point play as he was fouled on a desperation 3-pointer to beat the shot clock.
Nebraska trailed 56-36 before Gallegos and Ubel, who finished with 11 points and six rebounds, keyed a 13-4 Nebraska surge that pulled the Huskers within 60-49 after an Almeida basket with 3:27 left. That would be as close as the Huskers got, as Tucker drained a long 3-pointer and Nebraska never got within 12 in the final four minutes.
The Huskers return to action next Saturday, Dec. 29, as they take wrap up non-conference play against McNeese State. Tipoff is slated for 2 p.m.