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'Huskers defuse upset bid
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Southeast Missouri State's Redhawks knew they would have to do a lot of things well in order to have a shot at pulling off an upset Sunday afternoon.
That never materialized, however, as the University of Nebraska eased to a 69-54 victory.
The Cornhuskers of the Big 12 Conference improved to 4-0, while the Redhawks fell to 2-2 as they came away with a split on their two-game road trip.
"Nebraska has a good basketball team," Southeast coach Gary Garner said. "We knew we would have to play really well in order to have a chance to win. We just didn't play well enough to beat a Big 12 Conference team.
"But we got a win on a tough road trip [75-68 Thursday at South Dakota State], which was big. Now we'll get ready for our first conference game."
Southeast, which opens Ohio Valley Conference play Saturday at Tennessee-Martin, actually led for a good portion of the first half, before the bigger, stronger Cornhuskers took control.
"We knew we would have a tough time with their size. That was probably my biggest concern coming into the game," Garner said. "They're really big and strong. It's tough for us to match up with a team like that."
The Cornhuskers started 6-foot-11, 265-pound sophomore center Aleks Maric and 6-10, 220-pound senior forward Wes Wilkinson.
Maric, averaging a double-double for the season, had just seven points and two rebounds, but it was Wilkinson who really hurt Southeast. He poured in a career-high 25 points, after averaging 9.5 in Nebraska's first three games. Wilkinson also grabbed nine rebounds. The Redhawks were also hurt by 19 turnovers.
Improvement on the boards
Southeast actually held its own on the boards, outrebounding Nebraska 39-37, including 20-9 on the offensive glass. But Nebraska got a good portion of its baskets from in close, outscoring the Redhawks 40-20 in the paint.
"They really killed us inside with so many easy baskets," Garner said. "Wilkinson really hurt us."
"They were a good team, really big and physical," Southeast senior center Ketshner Guerrier said. "But we could have played a lot better and given them a much better game."
Said senior guard Roy Booker, "We missed too many open shots. I missed a lot of shots I should have made. I think we could have beaten them if we had played better."
Southeast made just 20 of 66 field-goal attempts (30.3 percent), while Nebraska was 27 of 52 (51.9 percent). The Redhawks were eight of 29 from 3-point range (27.6 percent), after entering the game making 48.1 percent from beyond the arc. The Cornhuskers attempted just eight 3-pointers and made four.
"We missed a lot of easy shots," Garner said. "Nebraska is better than us, but we got a lot of open shots that we just didn't make."
The injury bug continued to plague Southeast. Junior guard David Johnson, who earned his first start against South Dakota State and led the Redhawks in scoring, was supposed to be in the lineup again Sunday.
But Johnson, who has missed one Southeast game because of a head injury and sat out both exhibition contests with a sprained thumb, played only 18 minutes off the bench Sunday because of a hernia that might require surgery.
Johnson has had hernia problems in the past, and the condition evidently flared up at Saturday's practice.
"We could have used a healthy David Johnson," Garner said. "He really played well the other night."
Junior guard Terrick Willougby and Booker were Southeast's only first-half offensive weapons Sunday, combining for all but four of the Redhawks' points in the period.
Booker scored 23 points, 10 in the first half, but he made just nine of 25 shots in the game. He also had 11 rebounds. Willoughby scored 15 points, 13 in the first half.
"I thought we got a lot of good shots that we can make," Garner said. "We didn't shoot nearly well enough to have a chance in a game like this."
Willoughby, who scored eight of Southeast's first 10 points, nailed a 3-pointer to give the Redhawks a 7-6 lead 3:43 into play.
The Redhawks led by four points twice and kept an advantage until just over 10 minutes remained in the period, when Nebraska went ahead 17-15.
It was tied 17-17 when Maric's layup with 9:32 left put the Cornhuskers ahead for good at 19-17 and started a 17-4 run.
Nebraska's advantage swelled to 34-21 at the 2:30 mark. The Redhawks got within 34-27 but trailed 38-27 at halftime.
Sophomore point guard Paul Paradoski hit two 3-pointers in the first five minutes of the second half to twice bring the Redhawks within eight points, at 38-30 and 43-35.
The Redhawks got no closer, but they were still within striking distance entering the final five minutes, trailing just 58-49. The Cornhuskers scored the next 11 points to open up their biggest lead of 69-49 as they coasted to victory.
"We had our chances," Garner said. "We just never could hit the shots that might have gotten us really close."