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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Samford guard Christen Cunningham had an instant description for the Bulldogs' 69-58 victory over Nebraska on Sunday night.
"I think it's a signature win our program needed," he said. "It gives us confidence going into the So Con (Southern Conference) play. If we can come in here and beat Nebraska at Nebraska, we should be able to take care of any opponent that's left on our schedule."
Samford (8-4) got blown out by current-No. 19 Louisville to open the season and lost by 10 to Texas on Dec. 4.
Coach Scott Padgett said his team made the shots, steals and hustle plays Sunday that got them a win against a major conference opponent.
"When you're the school we are, the low mid-major coming into a place like this, you need some of those plays to help get you over the top," he said. "I thought we had enough plays to keep us in it in the first half. But then I thought coming out, the first seven possessions scoring and executing to start the second half was the big key."
Samford trailed 30-26 at halftime but made four layups in the first seven minutes of the second half, including Wyatt Walker's 3-point play, to give Samford a 44-34 lead. The Bulldogs, who went on an 18-4 run to open the second half, led by as many as 13 points.
"I think we just all relaxed and realized we were equal," Cunningham said of the team's second-half run. "We came out and we executed. Coach Padgett had a great game plan and we executed. We got big plays from Wyatt Walker, Darius Gibson. Matt Rose hit two huge shots. It was a great team effort."
Samford was up 55-43 when Nebraska (7-5) went on a 7-0 run to cut it to five on Tai Webster's 3-pointer with 2:53 remaining. But the Huskers could get no closer. Rose's 3 pointer with 1:10 remaining pushed the Bulldog lead back to eight and Walker's free throws with 55 seconds left gave Samford a 10-point lead.
Nebraska struggled against Samford's press and zone defense, turning the ball over 17 times and hitting 6 of 22 3-pointers. Nebraska made just 10 of its 20 free throws compared to Samford's 21 makes.
"We've just got to figure it out and be ready to play," Nebraska's Shavon Shields said of the press and zone. "We knew it was coming. We knew what to expect from them. We just didn't go out and make plays. I just felt like especially once they were staying with us in the first half and shots weren't falling, people started getting down on themselves and hesitating. You can't have that happen. When you do things like that you end up losing games."
Padgett was particularly happy that Samford's big victory came in front of more than 10,000 Nebraska fans.
"That's the best atmosphere a Samford team's ever played in front of, if you ask me," Padgett said. "I think it makes it even more special getting the win."
Nebraska: The Huskers are the only program in Division I with multiple players averaging 15 points, five rebounds and 1.25 steals per game. Andrew White and Shavon Shields are among the 34 D-I players to average those marks this season.
Samford: The Bulldogs are now 1-8 all-time against Big Ten conference opponents and 1-2 all-time in the state of Nebraska, having lost at Creighton in Omaha in 2010.
Nebraska hosts Prairie View A&M Tuesday.
Samford host Miles College on Dec. 29.
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