Nebraska started fast and closed strong to secure its first Big Ten win of the season, knocking off Purdue (6-4) 70-56 at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Sunday afternoon to improve to 5-6 on the year.
Here are three thoughts from the game.
With 41 seconds to go and Nebraska leading 69-54, sophomore point guard Cam Mack ripped a rebound away from teammate Kevin Cross Jr. and tossed the ball over to Dachon Burke Jr. before falling out of bounds.
It was Mack’s 10th rebound of the game, and it gave him the first triple-double in Nebraska basketball history.
Mack finished with 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting (3-of-4 from 3), 10 rebounds, 12 assists, one steal and one block in 35 minutes, and he did it all after playing the full 45 minutes at Indiana on Friday. Mack had 15 points and 10 assists in that game, becoming the second Husker in the last 30 years to record multiple point-assist double-doubles.
Nebraska built up a 34-23 halftime lead with terrific team basketball, recording 12 assists on 14 made field goals. Mack set the tone for that with eight points and six assist by himself in the first 20 minutes. He hit a big 3-pointer in the closing seconds to give the Huskers a double-digit lead at the break, then in the second half, he secured a tough rebound and pushed the ball up the floor before dropping it off to Burke for a dunk that all but sealed the game with two minutes to play.
Burke led the Huskers in scoring for the second straight game and hit some big shots late, and big man Trevion Williams did work in the post for Purdue, but Mack was the best player on the court on Sunday. Any time that’s the case, Nebraska is going to have a chance to win.
Starting guard Jervay Green missed his second consecutive game following a suspension laid down by Fred Hoiberg on Friday. With Samari Curtis in the transfer portal, Nebraska was left with just eight scholarship players including the seldom-used freshman forward Akol Arop.
Enter Charlie Easley.
Hoiberg gave the 6-foot-2 freshman walk-on a chance in Bloomington on Friday, but he missed a layup under the basket in his first minute and Hoiberg quickly yanked him. He remained on the bench until the the final seconds when the game was decided.
But Hoiberg went back to the Lincoln Pius X graduate on Saturday, and Easley got two deflections in his first minute on the floor, then he held up defensively against Purdue’s leading scorer, Jahaad Proctor, forcing a miss one-on-one. Easley went on to play nine minutes in the game, scoring two points on a pair of free throws and grabbing a rebound, though he also had a couple of big box-outs when he didn’t secure the board himself.
The Huskers outscored the Boilermakers by two points while Easley was on the court. For a team that is so short on depth playing its second game in less than 24 hours, minutes like what Easley gave the Huskers on Saturday are incredibly valuable.
There’s no telling at this point how long Green’s suspension will last, but Easley proved against a tough Purdue team that he will be ready if Hoiberg calls his name.
Small in Stature but Big in Heart
There might not have been a tougher pair of teams for Nebraska to draw in its December Big Ten slate than Indiana and Purdue. The Hoosiers have an 11-man rotation with a deep frontcourt and Purdue has maybe the biggest front line in the conference with 6-foot-9, 270 pound sophomore Trevion Williams and 7-foot-3, 250-pound junior Matt Haarms.
Even so, the Huskers went toe to toe with Indiana in Bloomington and then took down the Boilermakers in Lincoln.
Purdue got the ball inside to Haarms for a dunk on the first possession of the game, but points in the paint were few and far between after that in the first half. The big guys (and not so big guys tasked with defending big guys) battled hard and the help defenders swarmed.
Purdue scored just 10 points in the paint in the first half as the Huskers held the twin towers to nine points on 4-of-13 from the field. Without that source of easy buckets, Purdue struggled offensively, shooting 9-of-41 overall in the first half.
Haarms missed his first two shots of the second half before leaving the game with an apparent head injury. Purdue did a better job of getting the ball to Williams and he hit all six of his shots for 12 points after halftime to finish with 18. Purdue finished with 32 points in the paint, but a lot of that was late after Nebraska was already in control as the Huskers hit enough shots down the stretch to pull away.
Nebraska did a great job of team rebounding in the first half as well, pulling down 21 defensive boards, many of which were tipped around a couple of times before a Husker managed to secure them. Even when the Boilermakers did grab a board, Nebraska’s defense held up, limiting Purdue to three second-chance points on 12 offensive rebounds.
The Boilermakers finished with 19 offensive rebounds and they only out-scored Nebraska 12 to nine in second-chance points. Conversely, the Huskers out-scored Purdue 17 to six in fast break points as the Huskers got out and ran at every opportunity, beating the bigger Boilermakers down the floor time and time again.
The fight a short-handed, undersized Nebraska team showed in these two Big Ten games is something the Huskers can build off of doing forward.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.