CHARLESTON, S.C. -- With Chaz Williams off on his shooting, Massachusetts was happy let Derrick Gordon lead the way.
Gordon scored 20 points as the Minutemen squandered nearly all of a 13-point lead before holding off Nebraska 96-90 in the opening game of the Charleston Classic on Thursday.
Williams, a senior, had come in averaging better than 21 points a game this season. But he was swarmed by Nebraska's aggressive defense and happily passed off to teammates.
"I lean on those guys as much as they lean on me," Williams said as UMass improved to 4-0 for the third time in four seasons.
Gordon made eight of his 13 shots, grabbed four rebounds and had a pair of steals. He also forced a very critical charging call on Nebraska's Deverell Biggs with a minute to go after the Cornhuskers (3-1) had cut a 13-point UMass lead to 91-88.
Trey Davis extended the lead to 93-88 on two foul shots moments later and Massachusetts held on for victory.
"It felt good," Gordon said. "We won the game and I just wanted to do whatever it took, defensive rebounds, taking the charge, getting the steal, whatever."
Massachusetts coach Derek Kellogg was happy to see others on the team step up in big spots. And he loved the way Williams handled things.
"He actually kept his cool, played within the context of the game and ran the show when he was out there, which was good to see," Kellogg said.
Nebraska coach Tim Miles said Massachusetts came out more aggressive at the start of each half, putting his team in a hole as the game wore on.
"I thought we forced them into some tough shots, but ultimately we weren't physical enough to end the possession," he said. "That's really what cost us the game."
Sampson Carter scored 16 points, Cady Lalanne 15, Maxie Esho 13 and Raphiael Puntey 12 for Massachusetts. Williams, the Minutemen's leading scorer this season, managed just seven shots and finished with 10 points.
Webster, David Rivers and Leslee Smith had 12 points each for the Cornhuskers. Smith had 10 rebounds.
The Minutemen used strong runs at the start of each half to put Nebraska on its heels. UMass started the game on an 11-3 run and opened the second half with an 18-10 surge to lead 60-49. Each time, though, Nebraska got back in it.
Nebraska had started 3-0 for the second straight season under coach Tim Miles and looked to keep things going against undefeated Massachusetts. The Minutemen's wins included ACC foe Boston College and SEC opponent LSU.
Texas Tech transfer Terran Pettaway led the Cornhuskers with a career-high 28 points.
Massachusetts was still ahead 32-24 when Nebraska bounced back behind Pettaway's outside shooting. He had a jumper and two 3-pointers to draw the Cornhuskers within 35-32. Pettaway's two foul shots a short time later put Nebraska back in front 37-36.
However, Lalanne's inside basket and Seth Berger's foul shots sent the Minutemen to the locker room ahead 42-39.
Pettaway, who sat out last season after transferring, had three 3-pointers and matched his previous career best of 17 points in the first half.