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Teddy Allen started to cook, and Nebraska, finally, started to pull away.
Nebraska's junior guard overcame first-half foul trouble to score 16 of his 23 points in the final 20 minutes, and the Huskers overcame a sloppy first half to hold off winless South Dakota 76-69 Tuesday night at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
"That's him. He's a passionate basketball player; he hates to lose," NU coach Fred Hoiberg said. "That's who Teddy Allen is. He's a heck of a competitor, he's a fiery competitor. And guys see that and they ride with him when he gets that going."
NU's first night game of the season after a trio of games that started at 1 p.m. or earlier looked for a while like it might have the Huskers losing sleep.
Nebraska called on Shamiel Stevenson to slow down South Dakota guard Stanley Umude, a preseason all-Summit League pick, in the second half. With the 6-foot-6, 245-pound Husker guarding him, Umude missed his final five shots.
Three games into the season, and the Nebraska men’s basketball team might be establishing an identity — as a team that can rely on its defense.
South Dakota (0-3), which came in shooting just 35% from the field and 15% from three-point range in opening its season with a pair of losses, got Nebraska into foul trouble in the opening minutes, and did just enough to scratch out a three-point lead past the halfway point of the first half.
Allen, coming off a 22-point game against North Dakota State, had two fouls less than three minutes in and played just six first-half minutes after picking up a third midway through the opening half.
Then Teddy Buckets made an appearance.
Allen scored Nebraska's first seven points out of the locker room and 11 of the Huskers' first 14. With NU's offense looking a lot like the stagnant version that struggled against Nevada, Allen took matters into his own hands to get things going.
A pair of Allen free throws sparked a run of nine straight points in two minutes to allow the Huskers (3-1) to extend a five-point lead to 14. Five more Allen points in a span of 32 seconds later in the half stretched the advantage to 18. As the game went to a media timeout, Allen trotted to the bench screaming and exhorting his teammates.
"We just rode him and put the the ball in his hands," Hoiberg said. "But he certainly got us going at the right time when we needed it most, and it was enough to hold them off there at the end."
Banton's personality has been every bit as important to the Nebraska men's basketball team through this bizarre year as his game on the court.
NU needed it, too, as South Dakota got within seven in the closing minute.
Trey McGowens had 13 points and six rebounds, while Kobe Webster and Shamiel Stevenson both came off the bench to score 11. Lat Mayen added six points and a season-high 12 rebounds, and Dalano Banton finished with 10 points, five rebounds and four assists.
South Dakota got 23 points and 11 rebounds from preseason all-Summit League pick Stanley Umude, and 24 points and five boards from A.J. Plitzuweit. Former Husker Brady Heiman finished with two points, two assists, two blocked shots and two steals, while former Kearney High and Nebraska-Kearney standout Kanon Koster was scoreless in eight minutes off the bench.
The teams took turns playing ugly basketball in a choppy first half.
Both teams were hit with technical fouls in the first few minutes. Nebraska started 2-for-11 from the field. South Dakota didn’t score for the final 3:20 of the half and made one field goal in the period’s final five minutes.
The Huskers tied their season high with 10 turnovers in the first 20 minutes, including four offensive fouls.
Four minutes into the game, Nebraska was 1-for-4 from the field with five fouls and four turnovers. For the first time all season, NU trailed at the first media timeout.
But after falling behind 22-19, the Huskers outscored South Dakota 16-7 over the final seven minutes of the half. Seven of NU’s points came from McGowens, who started the stretch with a three-pointer.