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2011 Mar 01
Say this much for the Nebraska men's basketball team: The Huskers keep it interesting.
Three days after a gut punch at Iowa State, NU played one of its best games Tuesday night in a 69-58 smothering of No. 22 Missouri, winning its final Big 12 home game against a team Doc Sadler has beaten more times – seven – than any other in the league. The victory probably punched the Huskers' ticket for the NIT and kept them alive for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.
“We still got some fight left in us,” senior guard Drake Beranek said. “It’s not over until it’s over. We’re going to play it out for as long as they’ll let us and we’ll see how it ends up.”
On Senior Night, guards Lance Jeter and Beranek didn't disappoint.
Jeter scored 16 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished seven assists. More importantly, he repeatedly tore through Mizzou's press, setting up three transition buckets of his own and several more for his teammates.
“I’m just trying to get my teammates in the right position,” Jeter said. “They were being aggressive, so I knew I could drive more. They collapsed and we had open shooters.”
Beranek – a former walk-on who transferred from Division II Nebraska-Kearney – finished with seven points, including a back-breaking 3-pointer during the Huskers' 21-4 second-half run.
NU head coach Doc Sadler even had a chance to play his third senior, walk-on Matt Karn, in the game's final minute to resounding cheers from the 9,467 fans at the Bob Devaney Sports Center.
After Mizzou scrapped out a 17-12 lead over the first 16 minutes of the game, Nebraska (19-10 overall, 7-8 in the Big 12) took control with a 14-2 run. Jeter started it with a 3-point play that featured a dazzling, end-to-end layup. Center Andre Almeida made a jumper. NU scored Two more layups. Then Toney McCray – who only hit 4 of 12 shots for the night – nailed 15-footer and a 3-pointer to extend NU's lead to 26-19. Tiger guard Michael Dixon hit back-to-back 3-pointers to slice the Huskers' halftime lead to 27-25.
In the second half, Nebraska turned a 38-36 deficit at the 16:08 mark into a 57-42 lead eight minutes later with stifling post defense and an inspired effort from sophomore forward Brandon Ubel, who finished with 11 points and nine rebounds for the night. Ubel scored seven points during the stretch, including a one-handed tip-in off of a missed free throw by Jorge Brian Diaz. The play brought the Devaney crowd to its feet.
“One of Brandon’s best games since he’s been here,” Sadler said. “I thought he was competing and going after balls. The miss free throw putback was huge.”
Unlike Saturday's 83-82 overtime loss to ISU, NU was able to dictate a deliberate pace to the faster, more athletic Tigers (22-8, 8-7), who only shot four free throws for the game. Mizzou frequently settled for jump shots; Nebraska chose to clog the paint and shut off dribble penetration.
“We wanted to pretty much play it like a zone tonight,” Sadler said. “I thought for the most part we did a pretty good job of that. We were trying to cut out their driving lanes.”
While gunner Marcus Denmon scored 19 points and hit all five of his 3-point attempts, small forward Kim English was awful, missing 8-of-9 shots. Forward Ricardo Ratliffe was held to four points, seven under his season average.
More importantly, the Huskers stayed fresh against the team that bills itself as the “Fastest 40 Minutes” in basketball. Although Mizzou forced 17 turnovers, it gave up 14 fast break points to NU, as well.
“You better attack their pressure,” Sadler said. “You better not get tentative and play side-to-side against it, because when you do, they just come at your more and more and more.”
One defining play in the second half found Jeter, after a steal, zooming by two slow-footed Missouri defenders all the way to the hoop for his easier layup of the night. Tiger coach Mike Anderson immediately called a timeout. Later, he flung his suit jacket in frustration back at his bench.
“This is what takes place when everyone doesn’t show up to play,” Anderson said. “Especially on the road – and not bring the energy and not bring the mindset that we’re going to guard people. I just didn’t think we played with that toughness you got to play with on the road.”
Sadler, meanwhile, got to enjoy the company of some of Nebraska's best players over the last quarter-century, all of whom took part in a halftime ceremony marking the final the Big Eight/Big 12 game.
“It was great to go into the locker room and see a lot of the former players that were in there. Some of the former payers came by practice yesterday...I’ve heard stories about certain guys, but I’ve never met them. It’s just good to see those people.”
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2011 Feb 13
Fueled by another signature defensive performance, the Nebraska men's basketball team took firm control of its Saturday night game with Oklahoma State midway through the second half, and hit enough shots down the stretch to win comfortably 65-54.
The victory broke a three-game losing streak and stands as NU's best overall performance of the Big 12 campaign. Not that it didn't come without some sweat.
“We were basically bringing our hard hats to work,” senior point guard Lance Jeter said.
The Huskers crawled, scrapped, shoved and wrestled with the Cowboys, beating them 38-28 in rebounds. Nebraska smothered OSU's offense, holding it to 36 percent shooting and 14 points below its average in Big 12 play. As Oklahoma State whipped the ball around the perimeter, looking for some small crack in Nebraska's defense, the Huskers rotated with precision, clogging dribble lanes and altering shots.
“We spent all day Thursday defensively on going back to trying to make sure we were keeping the ball out of the lane and being fundamentally sound,” head coach Doc Sadler said.
On offense, guards for NU (16-8 overall, 4-6 in the Big 12) repeatedly dribbled through OSU's defense for layups. The Huskers hit just enough 3-pointers – 6 of 19 overall – to keep the Cowboys (also 16-8 and 4-6) from completely sagging into the lane.
Jeter, not surprisingly, led the way with 16 points; he hit 7-8 at the free throw line. And after playing just five minutes in a loss to Baylor, guard Caleb Walker finished with eight points and seven rebounds. That included a crucial 3-pointer that kept NU's lead at double digits late in the second half.
But the evening's spark plug was senior guard Drake Beranek, who provided the game's signature play: A diving first-half steal that left the Ravenna native with a floor burn and NU with a transition layup.
“I like to lay out every once in awhile, going back to my baseball days,” Beranek joked. “I’ve done it before, and in Big 12 play, possessions are huge. I’m going to do anything it takes to get us an extra possession.”
Said Sadler: “The play he made in the first half when he tipped back the loose ball was as big as it’s been, because it really got the crowd into the game at that point and they stayed in it from that point on.”
The Huskers led 31-25 at halftime. They slowly extended the lead in the second half. Midway through, Beranek scored seven straight points, padding a 43-34 lead to 50-38. Oklahoma State cut the lead to 60-51 with four minutes left, but Brandon Ubel hit a 19-footer to extend the lead back to 11. Both teams only scored three points each down the stretch.
A crowd of 9,547 at the Bob Devaney Sports Center stayed until the end and cheered the end of a losing slide.
“It was pretty much our defense,” Jeter said. “That was something we were doing in the beginning of Big 12 play, but we had gotten away from it a little bit lately. We definitely got it back tonight.”
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2011 Jan 07
He cultivated it as a kid in the front yards of his hometown Ravenna, a central Nebraska community known for its yearly “Annevar” celebration. He played Wiffle ball, football, anything worth competing in. Video games. And of course, basketball.
It carried him to 73 career wins and a high school state title playing for his dad, Paul. Landed him a scholarship at Nebraska-Kearney, where he became one of the best players in Division II by his sophomore year, averaging 20 points and nine rebounds per game.
And that competitive streak, really without Drake Beranek precisely knowing it, planted a seed in his brain late one night in 2009, as he watched a rerun of Nebraska basketball coach Doc Sadler's show. He liked something about Doc and the team he'd just coached, the smallest bunch of runts in Division I, who almost scared up a NCAA Tournament bid anyway.
It made him listen to a couple buddies, “big-time Husker fans who have always been in my ear a little bit,” about playing at NU.
It put he and his mom, Brenda, in an office with a mildly-surprised Sadler, who guaranteed nothing and asked more than once if Beranek truly understood he was leaving behind a lot of money – a scholarship at UNK – for more work in a tougher conference against guys he couldn't just take off the dribble like he did in Division II.
“I wanted to see what kind of fight I had,” he said.
He certainly found out what kind of fight it would take.
While possessing the typical, self-deprecating humility of a small-town kid - “I don't talk much on the court. When I talk, I always seem to lose.” - the senior guard is yet confident. Doubts about making it at NU, after playing three years at UNK? He didn't have that many. Because he was willing to be a sponge. Take all advice. Shoot however many free throws and 3-pointers. Whatever.
“If it's on a basketball court, I want to learn it,” Beranek said.
As a redshirt last year, he took a little something from every Husker. Brandon Richardson, on how to play defense. Lance Jeter, on good ball handling. Probably the most from former forward Ryan Anderson, an encyclopedia of little, clever tricks a guy can use on the court to make a play. Every so often, Beranek would be matched up with Anderson – who's roughly the same age – and see similarities in their aggression and skills.
“Just how to be a Division I athlete,” Beranek said of Anderson's teaching. “The tenacity it takes day in and day out.”
Beranek had floor burns to show for it.
“He was in practice diving on the floor, giving us a good look, just being a great teammate,” Jeter said.
A natural coach, the six-foot-four, 200-pounder clapped his teammates through drills as he did them. It wasn't always easy. The Huskers were rarely a bunch on the same page. The mixture of backgrounds and personalities, of veteran experience and virtually none at all, left few anchors on the team. Beranek was one.
“He wasn't a energy-taker, he's an energy-giver,” Jeter said. “And that's something that we needed.”
But it got even harder through a brutal 2-14 Big 12 Conference campaign. Sadler especially dialed in his team for those last few weeks, getting back to basics, a kind of soul-claiming defense that defined his team in 2009. That again defines Nebraska this year. But that meant draining practices with a team locked in the cellar of the league.
“There's comes a point where you're sitting there and you say 'Man, this is tough stuff,'” Beranek said. “But when you get done with that, you can say 'You know what, not a lot of people in this state can do what we just did' It's pretty gratifying in that way.”
Just before the 2010 school year started, Beranek was eating dinner with his family. He got a call from NU assistant coach Chris Croft.
Doc wants to talk, Croft told him.
Beranek first thought: I'm in trouble.
Then Croft said: Bring your family.
Sadler didn't think he'd have one to give for this year, you see, but the numbers worked out and so here it was. A scholarship.
What Beranek left behind returned to him.
Sadler freely admits that he'd love to have more Nebraska-born players on his team. Their investment level is a little greater. Their work ethic rubs off – as it has with Beranek.
“One guy does it, then two guys do it,” Sadler said. “And next thing you know, you have four or five guys who are getting on the floor for loose balls.”
There simply have not been many in-state players in Sadler's tenure worth the scholarship offer. Sadler's traveled to Germany, Puerto Rico, Brazil and to every corner of the United States – to Los Angeles and Baltimore and Pittsburgh and Utah - to find talent that is scarce at home.
It's a far cry from the early-to-mid 1990s, when the state churned out NBA-caliber athletes like Erick Strickland and Andre Woolridge, shooters like Alvin Mitchell, Mike Bargen, Curtis Marshall and Othello Meadows, bangers like Bruce Chubick, Terrance Badgett and Andy Markowski. All of them significant players for their college teams, many at Nebraska.
Nobody back then confused Nebraska high school basketball with Indiana's crop of talent.
But nobody confused it with North Dakota, either.
Beranek isn't exactly sure why he's the one in-state guy on Sadler's roster who plays significant minutes. Why, other than an occasional Cole Salomon cameo during the 2009 season, he's the primary in-state contributor in Sadler's five years.
But he has one or two theories.
Maybe kids don't work quite as hard, Beranek said. Video games and all that.
“Technology is a little bit of it,” he said. “A lot of people are staying inside.”
And maybe this, too: “The style that high school Nebraska basketball plays, it's tough to get a lot of looks. We're more about ball control and playing as a team. You might pass up some decent players.”
Beranek, of course, headed to UNK after an all-star high school career full of big games and packed gyms. And it made sense; the Lopers were coming off a four-year run of success that included a trip to the Division II Final Four.
“I got a lot better at Kearney,” Beranek said.
In Beranek's freshman year, led by senior Dusty Jura, UNK made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. But the next two seasons were stunning for a program that frequently won 25 games per year. The Lopers finished 16-13 and 11-15.
“I don't want anyone to go through the two seasons we went through,” Beranek said.
The hard part of coming to Nebraska was leaving UNK just before his senior year, when Beranek could have put the Lopers back in the NCAA Tournament. Without him, UNK lost several close games and finished 13-14. This year, UNK isn't much better at 5-7. Beranek keeps track of scores from afar. He still has friends there, and keeps in touch with co-head coach Kevin Lofton via text messages.
“No hard feelings,” Beranek said. “I wish them the best. Everybody's pretty mature about the situation. It's only worth it I come here and I do well. And they understand that.”
Beranek averages 4.9 points 2.4 rebounds per game. He's started once, too. He takes good shots, makes half and occasionally passes up an open look when he shouldn't. He'll save a few possessions by diving on the floor, but he commits a few too many fouls and turnovers, as well.
And if he wants to keep playing those 16 minutes per game in the Big 12 slate, he'll have to knock down shots; he'll have stiff competition from sophomores Ray Gallegos and Eshaunte Jones for that role. Sadler will play the guy who makes jumpers.
So it's not a fairy tale. It's the Big 12, and what Beranek came to Nebraska – to measure himself against the best in college basketball – is truly about to begin.
Beranek will be there, drinking it in. And Ravenna will turn out for its own. The numbers will be a little less on nights when the Ravenna boys' play – Beranek knows how that works – and bigger on the others. A whole chunk town was ready to show for Sunday's North Dakota game – postponed until Monday because of a snowstorm in the upper Midwest.
“They were all at the Embassy Suites getting ready and doing some pre-game stuff,” Beranek said.
He naturally gets the star treatment at home. Autographs and signed jerseys as Christmas presents. Kids gather around, like kids do. They ask him for advice, and he gives the kind they want – and need - to hear: “Dream big. Never give up on things.”
The best thing about playing at NU? All of it.
“The overall experience,” Beranek said. “Just getting down here and playing for my home state.”
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2010 Aug 24
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