An ice cold first half proved costly, as Nebraska nearly rallied back from an 18-point deficit before falling to UCF, 68-59, at the AdvoCare Invitational at the HP Field House Thursday.
Nebraska, which shot just 25 percent in the first half, cut UCF’s 18-point lead to 53-47 with 3:15 left, but the Knights (4-0) held on down the stretch for the win.
Nebraska will play either Marist, which lost to West Virginia, 84-78, at 6 p.m. (CT) or 20 minutes following the second semifinal.
For the Huskers, James Palmer Jr. led NU (3-2) by scoring 20 of his career-high 22 points in the second half, while Glynn Watson Jr. added 11 points, seven assists and four steals.
Ceasar DeJesus led UCF with 15 points, while Tacko Fall had 11 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots, as the Knights limited Nebraska to just 34 percent shooting from the floor.
Nebraska got off to a promising start, using an 8-2 run to erase an early deficit and lead 10-8 after an Anton Gill 3-pointer, but UCF took over.
The Knights ran off 19 unanswered points, including seven from Fall and five Djordjide Mumin, as the Huskers missed 10 straight shots to dig a deep hole. In all, the Huskers shot just 25 percent in the first half, including 2-of-13 from long range, to fall behind 36-20 at the break
The Huskers started to chip away at the deficit, opening the second half by hitting its first three shots from the field to cut an 18-point deficit to 38-26 after a Watson jumper with 17:52 remaining. NU’s defense stiffened up, as UCF struggled offensively while Nebraska continued climb back.
NU got the lead to 10, at 46-36, after a Jordy Tshimanga basket with 9:06 remaining and used five straight points from Palmer, including a 3-pointer, and a putback from Tshimanga to get within 49-43 with 4:59 left. Trailing 53-47, the Huskers had a golden opportunity to cut deeper into the lead, but Tshimanga missed the front end of a 1-an-1 opportunity.
UCF, which hit just seven of its first 20 shots after halftime, would take advantage as AJ Davis’ 3-pointer pushed the lead back to 56-47, and the Huskers were unable to pull closer than six points the rest of the way.
Nebraska returns to action Friday evening as they take on Marist. Tipoff is at 6 p.m.