MBB Illinois 1.11 Alonzo

Nebraska’s Alonzo Verge Jr. (1) looks to pass the ball during the game against Illinois at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022, in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Huskers lost 81-71.

It was, in essence, over after five-and-a-half minutes. That was all Purdue needed to make its point.

After the aforementioned opening stanza of Friday night’s Big Ten men’s basketball contest between Nebraska and No. 7 Purdue at the oft-intimidating Mackey Arena, the Boilermakers were up 17-2. Not only that, they’d forced six Husker turnovers and seven Nebraska personal fouls and held the shell-shocked visitors to 1-of-10 through its first ten field goal attempts.

Sure, the game continued from that point, but the rest was mere formality. Nebraska failed to whittle Purdue’s advantage below 12 points, and the far superior squad ultimately coasted to a simple 92-65 victory.

Nebraska battled valiantly to avoid complete humiliation following Purdue’s early onslaught, but it was essentially a formality. Here are three takeaways from the latest Husker defeat: 

Early fouls set tone

The Boilermakers are an offensive buzzsaw, boasting the most efficient offense in college basketball according to kenpom.com entering Friday’s contest.

Purdue’s 85.1 points per game ranked No. 6 nationally, the Boilermakers have the third-best 3-point shooting percentage and eighth-best 2-point shooting percentage in college basketball and have the second-highest effective field goal percentage in college basketball. Friday marked the eighth time the Boilermakers have eclipsed 90 points, and the first time this season against a Big Ten opponent.

Completely rendering the Boilermakers ineffective is extremely difficult. Rather, Nebraska had to decide between letting the likes of senior forward Treveion Williams and sophomore center Zach Edey or senior guard Sasha Stefanovic and sophomore guard Jaden Ivey operate with less defensive attention.

In the midst of Purdue’s 17-2 run to open the contest, it became apparent that the Boilermakers didn’t need to decide.

Nebraska’s primary interior defenders, junior forward Derrick Walker and freshman forward Eduardo Andre, both picked up two fouls inside the contest’s first four-and-a-half minutes. With nonexistent interior depth, both were forced to play conservatively while Edey and Williams largely dominated proceedings. 

Purdue’s 7-foot-4 interior force finished the opening half with 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting in just 10 minutes, while Williams had eight points. 24 of Purdue’s 48 first-half points came in the paint, bullying a weakened Nebraska interior.

In addition, Walker’s early foul troubles completely dashed Nebraska men’s basketball head coach Fred Hoiberg’s recent pivoting of the offense to center around the forward. With Walker playing 12 first-half minutes, the sixth-fewest of any Husker, Nebraska turned the ball over 12 times in the opening 20 minutes.

Walker and Andre getting into early foul trouble certainly didn’t help the Huskers’ cause on Friday night, but it more-than likely sped up the inevitable. 

Purdue primed for lengthy March run

Even though it came against a Nebraska squad seemingly destined to finish in the bottom four of the Big Ten, Friday’s game was a perfect example of just how dangerous Purdue can be. 

The Boilermakers have an explosive offense capable of burning opponents in a multitude of ways. Edey, who finished Friday’s game with a game-high 22 points, has an almost comical dominance of the interior when he’s on his game. He and Williams comprise one of the best frontcourt tandems in college basketball. 

Ivey and Stefanovic, the latter of whom had an off night shooting the ball against Nebraska, lead a talented group of guards that are normally extremely efficient from 3-point range. To Nebraska’s credit, Purdue made just 9-of-29 3-pointers on Friday — a far cry from the Boilermakers’ average clip of 40.8%. However, Nebraska struggled to contain Ivey, who finished with 17 points on 5-of-10 shooting.

Nebraska shot 45.6% from the field and 8-of-19 from 3-point range against Purdue, impressive on its face, but also turned the ball over 17 times. The Boilermakers’ size and athleticism are enough to give any team fits, and dominated a Nebraska team still searching for a consistent offensive identity. 

Purdue desperately needed a convincing win not only to improve to 3-2 in Big Ten play, but also to build some momentum ahead of a critical Monday clash with Illinois. Head coach Matt Painter’s squad is one of the conference’s best, and it played like it on Friday. If Purdue remains consistent through the Big Ten gauntlet, it will enter March as one of college basketball’s premiere squads.

Positives for the visitors

Nebraska could’ve easily rolled over after Purdue took such a decisive early advantage, especially given the circumstances, but Hoiberg’s squad deserve praise for battling for a full 40 minutes.

Senior guard Alonzo Verge Jr. scored seven points in 17 seconds to cut Purdue’s lead to 40-27 with 3:19 remaining in the first half. Freshman guard CJ Wilcher made two 3-pointers in the final 30 seconds of the first half, including a near-half court buzzer beater, to cut the Boilermakers’ halftime lead to 48-33. Both guards finished with 10 points. 

Senior guard Kobe Webster played a critical role in boosting a limping Nebraska squad early on in commanding the offense as Nebraska’s primary ballhandler, while Nebraska’s aforementioned perimeter defense was surprisingly stout. Sophomore guard Keisei Tominaga had a team-high 11 points, though a good bit of that came in garbage time. 

Ultimately, the more talented team prevailed. Nebraska, despite a few positives, shot itself in the foot too many times to have a legitimate shot at upsetting one of the Big Ten’s best teams. What resulted in yet another blowout Big Ten loss.