The Huskers, who shot just 30 percent in the second half, rallied behind the play of sophomore Tai Webster, who scored nine of his 16 points in a 15-4 surge to open the second half.
Webster went 4-of-5 from the floor on the night, including a trio of 3-pointers as four Huskers finished in double figures. Junior Shavon Shields led all scorers with a game-high 29 points and nine rebounds, while Terran Petteway and Benny Parker added 10 points apiece for the Big Red.
The Huskers, who trailed by as many as 13 points in the first half, were down 34-30 at the break before Webster took over. The sophomore hit consecutive 3-pointers during an 8-0 Husker run to give Nebraska its first lead since the opening minutes. The 6-foot-4 sophomore then capped the run with a conventional 3-point play, putting Nebraska ahead 45-38 with 15:06 left.
Southwest Minnesota State continued to hang around and was within 45-43 with 12:55 left, but a jumper by David Rivers and four Webster free throws capped a 6-0 spurt and put the Huskers ahead 51-43. SMSU pulled to within five at 51-46 on a Cole Martin 3-pointer, but the Huskers put the game away with a 16-3 run highlighted by eight straight points from Shields.
Martin, an Omaha native, led SMSU with 12 points, while Joey Bartlett added 11 in a losing effort.
Early on, the Mustangs gave the Huskers fits, using a 16-2 first-half run to build an 11-point lead after a 3-pointer from Bartlett. The Huskers were ice cold for the first 12 minutes, hitting just two of their first 15 shots from floor, as SMSU pushed the lead to 22-9 after Bartlett’s second 3-pointer of the half.
The Huskers roared back with increased intensity on the defensive end, as a Shields 3-pointer and a Petteway steal and dunk cut the margin to eight and forced SMSU to take a timeout. The Huskers kept chipping away and got a strong effort from Benny Parker off the bench, as he had six points and three steals and helped NU converted nine Mustang turnovers into 12 points in the half.
Nebraska trailed 34-25 before closing the half with five straight points, including Webster’s first 3-pointer of the night, to pull within 34-30.
The Huskers open the season on Sunday, Nov. 16, when they take on Northern Kentucky. Tipoff is at 1 p.m.