Fatigue is starting to set in for the Nebraska men’s basketball team. Coming into tonight, the Huskers were back home from a three-game road trip and coming off their longest break since they resumed play two weeks and eight games ago, but it hardly mattered.
Nebraska lost to a bigger, better and more cohesive team in Purdue. It’s Nebraska’s third consecutive Big Ten loss, a harsh reality coming off of the ultimate high of beating Penn State last Sunday.
Nebraska hung with the Boilermakers for a little over a half, just as it did in recent not-so-close losses at Maryland (twice) and to Wisconsin. Nebraska shot 41.9% from the floor and connected on 7-of-17 3-pointers in the first half, but those numbers plummeted in the second as the Boilermakers pulled away to win 75-58.
Another glaring weakness was free throw shooting. Nebraska ranks second-to-last in the Big Ten in this category and 332nd out of 347 teams, making shots at a 63.4% clip from the charity stripe entering this game. The game saw the Huskers go 5-of-14 as they connected on just one of seven attempts from the line in the second half.
“Obviously our free throws just continue to haunt us,” head coach Fred Hoiberg said after the game. “We’re leaving way too many free points out there.”
While the free throws were clearly poor, that wasn’t the only reason Nebraska lost the game. Simply put, the Huskers couldn’t make shots in the second half. After halftime, they made 28.1% of their shots from the floor overall and 18.2% on 3-pointers. Yet, it didn’t start out that way. Nebraska made its first two shots of the second half to take a 42-40 lead and made five of its first ten shots en route to a 49-46 lead. Then came an 18-4 Boilermaker run; one that spanned from the 11:25 mark in the second half until only 6:50 remained.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the Huskers struggled given their two leading scorers, junior guard Teddy Allen and sophomore guard Dalano Banton, each had one of their worst games of the season. Banton scored a season-low two points as he attempted just three shots and Allen finished with just six points on 10 shots. Allen, the Big Ten’s sixth-leading scorer at 17.1 points per game, failed to score until over six minutes into the second half, and Banton got on the scoreboard with under nine minutes left in the game.
Because of the inefficacy of its top players, Nebraska relied on a scoring-by-committee approach. This worked in the first half as several unexpected contributors offered valued production, but left the Huskers wanting as Allen and Banton still failed to emerge in the second half.
Junior guard Trey McGowens, Nebraska’s third-leading scorer, paced the team with nine first-half points as he made his first three shots, but failed to score in the second half. Hoiberg reacted by starting several bench players for the second half.
“Tonight our bench came in there and got us right back into the game,” Hoiberg said. “So I felt they deserved to start in the second half. They gave us the best chance to be competitive and win the game.”
Junior guard Shamiel Stevenson, the Huskers’ sixth-leading scorer, had seven points by halftime and finished with a team-high 10 points. The most pleasant surprise was the performance of senior guard Thorir Thorbjarnarson. The Iceland native finished with a season-high nine points along with four assists, four rebounds, two blocks and a steal. He was a crucial piece for Nebraska on both ends of the floor.
“Just seeing the ball go through the hoop tonight was really good,” Thorbjarnarson said postgame. “And I just need to keep building on that, and we need to keep pushing forward as a team and try to get some wins.”
Another positive Nebraska can take away was how it limited Purdue junior forward Trevion Williams, one of the conferences’ more dominant big men. The Huskers held Williams, usually a double-double machine, to nine points on eight shots along with just three rebounds.
It was freshman guard Jaden Ivey that led Purdue from the start, finishing with 15 points, 13 of which he scored in the first half. He also had seven rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks. Boilermaker junior guard Sasha Stefanovic took over in the second half where he scored all 14 of his points, and his four 3-pointers helped Purdue pull away. It was a huge performance for Stefanovic after going 0-for-10 in his last three games.
Another notable performance was sophomore forward Yvan Ouedraogo finishing with eight rebounds, a season-high in Big Ten play. The Huskers still got outrebounded 48 to 37. Nebraska did win the turnover battle, forcing 14 while committing just 11, but that small victory didn’t matter as they shot 34.9% from the floor overall compared to Purdue’s 46.9%.
The loss drops Nebraska to 5-15 on the season and 1-12 in Big Ten play. The Huskers get two more days off before hosting Penn State on Tuesday and attempt to complete the season-sweep over the Nittany Lions.
“The good thing is we get out guys a good day of rest tomorrow,” Hoiberg said. “I can’t even remember the last time we had a good [true] practice. So Monday, heading into that Penn State game, that’s going to be the last one that we’ll be able to have for a while.”