LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -- Nebraska scored but one field goal in a 10 1/2-minute stretch of the second half and gave up lots of easy baskets while squandering an 18-point lead against Missouri.
In spite of all that Saturday, the Cornhuskers still won 56-51.
Nebraska coach Doc Sadler knew there would be days like this in the Big 12 with his undersized team. And there will be plenty more if the Huskers are going to have success in the conference.
"Do I like playing this way? No. But that's how we're going to have to play," Sadler said.
It's all about scrappiness on both ends of the court for this Nebraska team, Sadler said.
His point was illustrated in one sequence early in the second half. Ade Dagunduro blocked a Leo Lyons shot under the basket and started sprinting the other way. Steve Harley slapped the loose ball up to midcourt. Chris Balham snagged the ball and tipped it back to Dagunduro, who was alone under the basket for an easy lay-in.
That play gave Nebraska its biggest lead, 36-18. Then the Huskers had to hold on as Missouri, one of the highest-scoring teams in the nation, made its run.
"I was hoping we wouldn't let up. To have that killer instinct to put them away, that's what great ballclubs have," Dagunduro said. "We didn't have that tonight. That's something we should never do, give up an 18-point lead. But Coach said with this team, even a 12- or 14-point lead is safe. They get after it. We were fortunate to win the game."
Sek Henry's layup with 1:12 left put Nebraska back in front after Missouri tied it 51-all on a J.T. Tiller jumper.
Dagunduro scored a career-high 20 points for the Huskers (11-3, 1-0 Big 12), but some of his best work was on the defensive end against DeMarre Carroll. Missouri's season scoring leader was held without a point until the middle of the second half and he finished with seven, almost 10 under his average.
Missouri's other big scoring threat, Lyons, also went scoreless in the first half but ended up leading the Tigers (13-3, 0-1) with 12.
Nebraska capitalized on 12 Missouri turnovers to lead 32-18 at half. But the Tigers cleaned up their play after the break and started to feed Lyons in the post for easy buckets.
The Huskers, meanwhile, struggled to score after a Henry basket with 14:06 left. Other than Toney McCray's 3-pointer, they didn't make another field goal until Dagunduro put back his own miss with 3:20 left that put Nebraska up 50-47.
"We dug a hole in the first half, and I thought in the second half we came back and played basketball like we have been playing all year long," Missouri coach Mike Anderson said. "It seemed like we were right there at a breaking point, where we were one point, two points down and we had some nice shots. We even tied it up. We just could not get over the hump for some reason."
Missouri didn't score after Tiller's tying shot with 1:41 left. Marcus Denmon missed a 3-pointer that would have tied it with 2.4 seconds.
Nebraska has won seven of its last nine meetings with Missouri, with five of the previous six games decided by five points or less.
The Tigers came into the game off to their best start since 1994-95, and they ranked fifth nationally in scoring at 85.3 points.
But the Huskers, seventh in the nation in defense at 55.8 points allowed per game, never let Missouri's offense find rhythm in the first half.
Carroll and Lyons each picked up two early fouls, and Lyons committed three turnovers in the four minutes he played in the first half. The Tigers' 18 first-half points were a season low.
"We came out flat with no energy and we weren't playing defense," Lyons said. "At halftime it was a sense of urgency. If we would have come out and played like that from the beginning, it would have been a blowout. We didn't bring it early enough."
Dagunduro said he and his teammates better be ready for more of the same kinds of games the rest of the season.
"I feel like I just played a football game," he said. "Them guys are big bruisers, and they only get bigger from here on out. We just have to get ready for it and toughen up."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)