Two steps forward, one step back. That’s been the story of Nebraska basketball under of each of its past two head coaches. That was the story Wednesday night at the Devaney Center as Purdue withstood a late Nebraska rally to beat the Huskers 65-56. The loss dropped Nebraska to 9-9 on the season and 0-5 to open Big Ten play.
Coming off a pair of hard-fought losses to Michigan and Michigan State last week, Wednesday’s loss at home came as a bit of surprise.
“Certainly it was a step back and it was disappointing,” coach Tim Miles said. “It’s about mentality. Every possession has to matter, every game has to matter. Tonight, I don’t think we can show evidence that it did matter until it was a 20-point deficit.”
Shooting woes continued to plague the Huskers in the first half on Wednesday. Nebraska entered the game shooting just 35.2-percent in conference games and was even worse early against the Boilermakers.
After an offensive rebound and put back by freshman Shavon Shields tied the game at 8 with 15:04 remaining in the first half, the Huskers went scoreless until Shields knocked down a 3-pointer at the 10 minute mark. Purdue answered with back-to-back layups in the paint to make it 20-11.
Sophomore walk-on guard Jordan Tyrance provided a brief spark off the bench for Nebraska, converting a layup off a fast break and knocking down a jumper on consecutive trips to pull Nebraska within five. But Huskers managed just four points over the final seven minutes of the first half, and shot just 25.8-percent overall, as Purdue (9-8, 3-2) took a 28-19 lead at the half.
Early in the second half, things went from bad to worse for Nebraska. A 13-4 run to open the half gave Purdue a 43-23 lead at the 16 minute mark. But following the media timeout at 15:25, the Huskers started to battle back behind a career high 18 points from Shields.
The freshman forward scored 8 of the Huskers’ next 10 points to pull Nebraska within 11. A steal and two free throws by Ray Gallegos got the lead under double-digits with 11 minutes to play.
“We started getting stops on defense,” Shileds said of the second half turnaround. “The first five minutes to the media time out, they were still killing us. Then we finally started getting stops, and when we started getting stops, we started running.”
But Purdue found an answer in senior guard D.J. Byrd. After going 0-for-5 from 3-point range in the first half, Byrd had three backbreaking 3-pointers over the game’s final 10 minutes. Each time the Huskers had chipped away to make it a two possession game only to see Byrd push the lead back to nine.
Ultimately that was the difference in a game where the Huskers waited too long to start playing with the effort that had earned them praise in two losses last week.
Shield’s 18 points offered at least a little solace for Nebraska fans. He also tied with Dylan Talley for the team lead with 8 rebounds. Tyrance finished with career-highs in points (10) and rebounds (7).
But Miles wasn’t looking for positives after the game. He called a timeout with Nebraska down nine and 22 seconds remaining to prove his point.
“I said, ‘Look around, what do you see? Empty seats, people heading to the exits.’ We’re supposed to be part of the solution, not part of the problem and I’m not interested in continuing this,” Miles said.
Instead of having an off day tomorrow as scheduled, Miles said the Huskers will get back to work.
“We’re going to go so hard tomorrow that it’s going to be amazing,” he said. “They’re young so they’ll bounce back. We have these cold tubs and these hot tubs they can soak in. We’re not going down that path.”
Nebraska travels to Penn State on Saturday, Jan. 19 to take on the Nittany Lions at 12 p.m. CT. The game will be televised on ESPNU.
Nebraska is 0-5 in conference play for the second time in the past four seasons. Penn State also dropped to 0-5 in Big Ten play on Wednesday, losing to Michigan State … The Huskers are shooting just 34.7-percent in conference play so far this season … Nebraska committed just two turnovers against Purdue, setting a school-record.