LINCOLN — It used to be Nebraska’s football team that had one of the best defenses in the country.
Now, it’s the Cornhuskers basketball team that plays some of the most stifling defense in the Big 12 Conference. Missouri got a taste of it Saturday in a 56-51 loss at the Devaney Center in which the Tigers scored one less point than Chase Daniel and the football team did at Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium this season. Missouri was held to a season-low 18 points in the first half and found out just how unforgiving the road can be when its second-half rally fell short.
“Give credit to Nebraska, they were coming from all directions,” Missouri forward DeMarre Carroll said. “Whenever we turned, they were right there. We basically couldn’t do anything in the paint.”
Nearly every time the Tigers got the ball inside, at least two Cornhuskers made it difficult to find the basket. Carroll and Lyons both went into the locker room at halftime without any points. In the second half, Missouri found the two forwards inside for 19 points. But the Tigers couldn’t quite overcome Nebraska’s lead, which was as big as 18 at the start of the second half.
“We just didn’t shoot it well,” Anderson said. “That’s the road for you. You’ve got to make shots.”
Nebraska went 10-3 in nonconference play and was ranked seventh in the country defensively, allowing just 55.8 points per game. On Saturday, it held the Tigers to 38 percent shooting from the field.
The Cornhuskers were noticeably smaller than Missouri, with two starters under 6 feet. Nebraska’s tallest player, Chris Balham, is 6-8, one inch shorter than Lyons and reserve Keith Ramsey.
“I feel like I just played a football game,” said Nebraska’s 6-foot-5 guard Ade Dagunduro, who scored a game-high 20 points. “(Carroll and Lyons) are big and they’re just going to get bigger as the year goes on.”
Missouri’s perimeter players struggled as well, making just three of 18 three-point attempts after Matt Lawrence made two of his first three. Leo Lyons made eight of nine free throws, but the rest of the Tigers were two of nine from the foul line.
Carroll said Anderson spoke to him and Lyons at halftime, demanding better effort from his two leading scorers. After giving up four quick points, the Tigers responded well and cut the lead to one point on two separate occasions.
“We came out with the right mindset,” Lyons said. “If we’d have brought that same mindset early in the game, it would have been a blowout.”
With the loss, the Tigers fell to 13-3 on the season and 1-1 on the road. They will get two consecutive home games against Colorado and Iowa State before leaving Columbia to play Jan. 21 at Oklahoma State.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Anderson said. “With our league, there’s no given on the road. You’ve got to show up each and every night to play.”