Nebraska men’s basketball has never won at Mackey Arena.
That didn’t change on Friday night as the Huskers lost their fifth consecutive game. The five game losing streak is the second such stretch this year for Nebraska. The No. 7 Purdue Boilermakers dominated from the opening tip to the final buzzer, bulldozing Nebraska 92-65.
On the court for Purdue were two of the best post players in the Big Ten in senior forward Trevion Williams and sophomore center Zach Edey. Williams stands at 6-foot-10 while Edey stands six inches taller at 7-foot-4. Above all of that, it was the first game back at Mackey Arena for students returning from winter break and the crowd was electric.
“It’s a phenomenal basketball environment,” Nebraska head coach Fred Hoiberg said postgame. “I put this up against any building in the country and I’ve seen ‘em all.”
Arguably the worst case scenario for Nebraska was early foul trouble for junior forward Derrick Walker. His early exit at Rutgers sparked a Scarlet Knights run that turned into a 29-point loss. On Friday, Walker picked up two quick fouls and headed to the bench after only 2:22 of game action.
Walker wasn’t alone in his foul troubles. At the first media timeout, the Boilermakers were already in the bonus off of seven Husker fouls. Freshman forward Eduardo Andre and freshman guard Bryce McGowens had two fouls each along with Walker. To make matters worse, Nebraska had five turnovers that aided a 11-0 Boilermaker run as Purdue led 14-2.
“It’s a very intimidating place to play,” Hoiberg said. “We knew that obviously. In the beginning, when Derrick picks up two he’s as key as anyone on this team.”
Things spiraled out of control from there. The Boilermakers grew their lead to as many as 19 with showstopping passing and photo finishes. The Huskers regained some footing from the play of senior guard Kobe Webster who provided five points off the bench in the first half. A desperate substitution brought Walker to the floor with under 13 minutes to play.
The return of Walker and the impactful play of Webster helped Nebraska stay in the game. From the point of Walker’s return, Nebraska outscored Purdue 29-25 to the end of the first half. The issue was that Purdue got out to a 23-4 start over Nebraska. That discrepancy made for a 48-33 halftime lead for the Boilermakers.
Despite the 15-point deficit, the Huskers had the advantage in two surprising categories. From 3-point range, Nebraska was 6-of-10 compared to Purdue’s 5-of-14. That number was boosted by freshman guard CJ Wilcher’s two late 3-pointers including one that was banked in at the buzzer. Nebraska also won the first-half rebounding battle 17-16 and held a 6-5 advantage on the offensive glass.
“You know, we kept battling,” Hoiberg said. “I didn’t think it was an effort thing tonight.”
Purdue took advantage of 12 Husker turnovers and turned them into 13 points and led Nebraska in second chance points 9-4. A Husker defensive swap from man-to-man to zone had also caused some issues for the Boilermaker offense.
After the seven-foul start for the Huskers in the opening period, Nebraska was only whistled once the rest of the way. But mirroring the first half, the first six fouls in the second half were committed by Nebraska. Three of those six fouls were charged to junior forward Lat Mayen while Andre and Walker each picked up a third foul.
“They’re in the bonus before the first media timeout in both halves,” Hoiberg said. “I’ve never been a part of something like that.”
Leading 57-41 after the first media timeout, the Boilermakers didn’t take their foot off the gas. The advantage quickly blossomed into the largest of the game for Purdue at 23 points with 11:51 to play. The downpour didn’t stop there. Soon, the separation was 28 and the Huskers signaled for a timeout.
The clock read 8:20 when Walker fouled out and headed to the bench with eight points. Any hope for the Huskers quietly fell away when Walker took his seat. Purdue head coach Matt Painter emptied the bench inside the final two minutes en-route to a dominant 92-65 victory. The defeat was the second of 25 or more points in six days for Nebraska.
The defining statistic of the contest was the points off turnovers. Purdue outpaced the Huskers 28-7, scored 21 second chance points and controlled the paint with 46 points to Nebraska’s 24. To Hoiberg, that was the key in the loss.
“Just look at the two categories,” Hoiberg said. “They scored 49 points off turnovers and second chance points off offensive rebounds.”
The Huskers failed to slow down the Boilermaker trifecta of Edey, Williams and sophomore guard Jaden Ivey. Edey scored 22 points and corralled nine rebounds, Ivey put in 17 points and Williams had 10 and three assists. Nebraska held Purdue to 31% from 3-point range.
Leading the way for Nebraska was sophomore guard Keisei Tominaga with 11 points, but nine of those came in the final four minutes once the dogs had been called off. Joining him in double figures were Wilcher with 10 points and senior guard Alonzo Verge Jr. with 10 points. The Huskers shot 42% from deep, the third-best team performance of the season.
“We get to go home, we get to regroup and get two days of practice,” Hoiberg said. “But we have got to fix our turnovers right now and find a way to compete on the glass.”