LINCOLN, Neb. – Tyrell Nelson scored a game-high 24 points and pulled down nine rebounds as Gardner-Webb held off Nebraska, 70-62, Sunday afternoon at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Nelson knocked in a free throw with 17 seconds left and pulled down two rebounds in the final 21 seconds to seal the win for the Runnin' Bulldogs (7-5), who picked up their first win over a Big Ten foe since beating Purdue on December 22, 2014.
"I'm very proud of our team. We played hard throughout and made just enough plays to keep the lead and win the game," said head coach Tim Craft. "I thought coming into the season we had a good defensive team and today we put together a very strong defensive effort. The guys executed the scouting report and played with toughness. Nebraska has played a very difficult schedule this season and I think they have a good team. They got the best of us on the glass, but I thought overall we played with toughness on both ends of the floor."
Trailing 30-28 at the half, Gardner-Webb came out quickly with a dunk from L'Hassane Niangane, a three-pointer from Jamaal Robateau and a jumper from Laquincy Rideau to go up 35-31 with 17:26 to play in the game.
Nebraska (5-6) slowly caught back up and there were seven lead changes and one tie over the next four minutes until Gardner-Webb took the lead for good – when Nelson banked in a three-pointer from the top of the key with 12:57 left.
The lead would grow as large as seven for the Runnin' Bulldogs, but Nebraska trimmed the lead back to 62-60 on a pair of free throws from Kai Webster with 2:21 remaining. Webster's layup with 56.7 seconds left cut the lead to 65-62, but Rideau found David Efianayi open for an easy layup with 29 seconds left and the 'Dogs closed the game out from there.
Cold shooting and turnovers hampered the game's early moments for both teams offensively, as more fouls had been whistled (6) than combined points scored (5) with 15 minutes left in the first half.
After Gardner-Webb went in front 4-3 on a Liam O'Reilly layup, Nebraska ran out to an 8-0 spurt to lead 11-4 and force a GWU timeout with 13:05 on the clock.
A Christian Turner triple and jumper from Nelson pulled Gardner-Webb to within 11-9 by the next media timeout (11:26).
The Huskers endured a field goal drought of nearly three minutes by making frequent trips to the charity stripe, holding a 17-14 lead with 7:39 to play before halftime, as neither team could find a rhythm offensively.
Gardner-Webb went on a mini-run late in the half, getting a short jumper from Nelson to pull back within three points – and a transition three-pointer from O'Reilly to tie the score, 22-22, with 5:14 left in the half. Laquincy Rideau had nice passes for assists on both plays.
DJ Laster's triple – also off an assist from Rideau – with 4:50 left put the 'Dogs up 25-24, but Nebraska answered quickly inside as Webster knifed into the lane for a close shot and a 26-25 edge 27 seconds later.
Rideau tied the game again with a free throw, but Nebraska got in close twice more for easy layups and a 30-26 lead.
Nelson sank a shot to pull within 30-28 with 3:13 remaining in the half – but neither team would score the rest of the way as that score remained the same at the break. Gardner-Webb had three chances to tie in the final 2:00, but could not get shots to fall.
Efianayi finished with 11 points off the bench for Gardner-Webb, while Rideau finished with seven points, five rebounds, five assists and six steals – helping the 'Dogs force 20 turnovers and finish with a 21-7 edge in points off of turnovers.
The Runnin' Bulldogs shot 44.6 percent for the game (25-of-56) and made five three-pointers.
Nebraska got 17 points from Webster and 14 from Glynn Watson, Jr., but shot just 39.3 percent for the game (22-of-56) and were hampered severely by turnovers.
Gardner-Webb will remain in the Midwest, traveling to face Kansas State on Wednesday at 8:00 pm in Manhattan (Fox Sports Kansas City).