LINCOLN, Neb. (AP)—Doc Sadler learned from the mistake he made two weeks ago against Kansas State and came away with what he called the signature win of his two seasons at Nebraska.
Sadler got creative in defending Michael Beasley, using a combination of box-and-one and 2-3 zone to make the national player of the year candidate a non-factor much of the game in the Cornhuskers’ 71-64 victory over the 24th-ranked Wildcats on Wednesday night.
“We’re trying to build something, and this was just the first step,” Sadler said. “This is probably the biggest win since I’ve been here.”
The Huskers played Beasley straight-up in a 74-59 loss on Feb. 6, and he scored 10 points in the first 81 seconds and finished with 35.
In the rematch, Beasley didn’t touch the ball on K-State’s first 10 possessions and was held scoreless the first nine minutes. Beasley ended up with 17 points and 10 rebounds for a hard-earned double-double that tied Carmelo Anthony’s NCAA freshman record of 22.
“I’m a quick learner,” Sadler said. “I didn’t wait for them to score 10 straight. You have to pick your poison. You can’t shut down Michael Beasley. I don’t know what their offensive game plan was, but we made plays on the defensive end.”
And Kansas State didn’t.
Steve Harley scored a career-high 20 points to lead the Huskers, with most of his production coming on baseline drives.
The Huskers shot 52 percent, their season-high against Big 12 opponents.
“It was the most embarrassing defensive performance of any team I’ve coached in 23 years, and I’ve coached 13 year olds,” Wildcats coach Frank Martin said. “I saw them shooting uncontested layup after uncontested layup after uncontested layup. And when they chose to miss one, they got the offensive rebound. They caught us, they punched us in the mouth and we ran away.”
The Huskers (15-9, 4-7 Big 12) held K-State scoreless on its last eight possessions. After Beasley missed a 3-pointer in the final second, the student section rushed the court to celebrate Nebraska’s second victory over a Top 25 opponent this season. The other one was against Oregon in December.
Kansas State (18-7, 8-3), which would have moved into a three-way tie for the Big 12 lead with a win, pulled to 65-64 on Blake Young’s 3-pointer with 4:46 left. The Wildcats wouldn’t score again and now have lost three straight on the road.
“Doc’s a grinder. He gets his teams ready. They came out and played with a lot more passion than we did,” Martin said.
Aleks Maric had 15 points to go with 17 rebounds for the Huskers. Ryan Anderson added 11 points.
Jacob Pullen had 15 points, Bill Walker 12 and Young 10 for the Wildcats.
Ade Dagunduro, Sek Henry and Jay-R Strowbridge were the chasers in the box-and-one against Beasley, and they were effective in denying him the ball.
Beasley had just five points in the first half, and Maric said he could sense his frustration.
“Obviously, he’s a key to their team, and when you take the key to the team out and make him frustrated and uncomfortable, it rattles the rest of the team,” Maric said.
Nebraska switched to a 2-3 zone starting the second half. Other than making a couple quick putbacks, Beasley was quiet until a two-minute stretch that saw him score 8 straight points.
“He’s going to have moments where he scores like that,” Martin said. “Mike scores (eight) straight, then we go brain-dead and don’t let him touch the ball the next four times down the floor.”
The Wildcats got him the ball only twice in the last four minutes. He threw up an air ball on a 3-pointer from the wing, and he missed the inconsequential last shot of the game.
Harley made 9 of 12 shots and was virtually unstoppable on baseline drives.
“We went into the game knowing they were going to overplay the guards a little bit,” Harley said, “so we practiced one-on-one, driving, backdoor.”
Walker, who forms the Wildcats’ 1-2 punch with Beasley, sat out the final 9:38 after getting called for a technical foul after taking a swing at Maric. Martin said Walker wasn’t taken out for disciplinary reasons.
“I thought we were playing halfway decent with the lineup we had in there. It’s as simple as that,” Martin said.