LINCOLN, Neb. -- Duke had more rebounds, second-chance points and points in the paint than No. 12 Nebraska.
But the Huskers topped the No. 9 Blue Devils in the only statistic that matters, taking a 60-54 win in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Wednesday night.
"Statistically, you look at this game and say, `How did you win it?' " Nebraska coach Connie Yori said. "I thought we just won with toughness."
That toughness came from an Emily Cady putback of a missed shot with 49 seconds left. Nebraska's only second-chance points of the second half put the Huskers up by five as Cady finished with a double-double, 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Nebraska (7-0, 0-0 Big Ten), which led by as many as 13 in the first half, held Duke (5-2, 0-0) to just four points in the last five minutes of the game while scoring eight, six from the free throw line along with Cady's critical basket.
Duke took its first lead of the game on Rebecca Greenwell's layup with 16:32 remaining that put the Blue Devils up 36-34. But they couldn't shake Nebraska, which matched Duke basket for basket for the next three minutes, then used a 10-4 spurt to open a 51-46 lead on Rachel Theriot's 3-pointer with 7:15 left.
Duke cut the Nebraska lead to 52-50 on Azura Stevens' short jumper with 5:14 left. The Blue Devils, who played without all American Elizabeth Williams, managed just two more baskets the rest of the way.
"We caught a break with Williams out," Yori said.
But Yori said Williams' absence didn't change the Nebraska game plan, which the Huskers executed well, particularly on defense. They held the much taller Blue Devils to 31 percent shooting and limited Duke's second-chance points to 21.
"We played smart," Yori said. "We played personnel. We guarded their shooters. We played off certain kids. We played with really good intelligence. I'd love to have that kind of size, frankly. But our kids are tough. We won that game because we're tough."
Duke didn't match Nebraska's mental toughness down the stretch, said coach Joanne McCallie.
"You've got to really hunker down," she said. "The intensity and immediacy and intelligence quotient is going up in the last five minutes. I don't think we did."
Nebraska made eight of its first 11 shots to open the game, taking a nine-point lead on Hallie Sample's jumper with 13:36 remaining in the half and went up 22-9 on Theriot's 3-pointer two minutes later.
A Duke shift to a zone defense cooled off the Huskers, who made just 3 of 18 shots the rest of the half. The Blue Devils, who shot just 29 percent for the half, outscored Nebraska 18-6 in that stretch, cutting the Husker halftime lead to 28-27.
McCaulie looked at the statistics after the game and said they generally would point to a Duke win. But she said her team couldn't make plays at key moments in the game.
"We just did not get the stops we needed at the time we needed them," she said. "They did a great job of finding 33 (Theriot), who's a super player. You can see the experience in this team. I have no idea who picked them sixth in the Big Ten. I can't see how that happened."
The game, which drew 7,500 fans, had postseason intensity, said Hallie Sample, who matched her season high with 16 points and was Nebraska's defensive stopper.
"It was real exciting," Sample said. " And it was definitely hard because they're a good team and we're a good team. It definitely felt like an NCAA game."
Theriot scored 17 points, 10 in the second half, to lead Nebraska. Stevens led Duke with 16 points and nine rebounds in her first collegiate start.
Nebraska: In the only other time the teams have played, the Huskers lost to the Blue Devils 53-45 in the 2013 NCAA Sweet 16 in March.
Duke: Top-ranked nationally in rebounding margin, Duke outrebounded Nebraska 47-34, well below its season margin of 24 more rebounds than its opponent.
Nebraska travels to Alabama Sunday.
Duke hosts Oklahoma Sunday.
UK's Howard says goal is 'to work smarter, not harder'
At Big Blue Madness, Kentucky's Rhyne Howard lays out the plans for herself and for her team as a whole.
Kentucky basketball coach Kyra Elzy and her family steal the show at Big Blue Madness
Big Blue Madness returned to Kentucky Friday night, and women's basketball coach Kyra Elzy put on quite the performance.
Kyra Elzy rappels from the rafters at Big Blue Madness
Kentucky women's hoops coach Kyra Elza drops in from the roof and dances with her son at Big Blue Madness.