Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Huskers Preparing to Face the ‘Edey Show’ with No. 4 Purdue Set to Visit Lincoln

December 09, 2022

Fresh of Nebraska’s big upset at Creighton on Sunday, the Huskers suffered a big setback on the road at No. 14 Indiana Wednesday when an illness sidelined senior point guard Sam Griesel.

Without their floor general running the show, the Huskers got off to a brutal start and weren’t able to completely dig themselves out of that early hole as the Hoosiers held off Nebraska’s comeback attempts for an 85-61 victory.

However, Coach Fred Hoiberg said on Friday that Griesel is “doing better.” 

“We limited him in practice today; still not 100% but he’s doing a lot better than he was,”Hoiberg said. “Kind of scary what he was going through, just how as the day went on, he really wore down and progressively got worse. You know Sam, the kid’s a warrior and it has to be something really serious for him to miss a game like that. But the next morning he woke up, felt a little bit better and then he progressively got better throughout the day. It was good to have him back out there and we’ll see how he does overnight, but hopefully we’ll get him back on the floor.”

With Griesel out of the lineup, C.J. Wilcher stepped up to score 17 of his career-high 22 points in the second half, sparking Nebraska’s runs to pull within seven on two occasions. 

“C.J. is a huge part of this team and the thing I’m really pleased with him is how much he’s able to play more sustained minutes with what he did with his body in the offseason,” Hoiberg said. “When he got it going, he really got us back in that game. It was good to see the movement; it wasn’t anything specific, we didn’t call a ton of actions for him, it was just the movement that we had that we were able to loosen him ups little bit.”

Wilcher only made one 3-pointer in the second half (and two overall), instead finding cracks in the defense to get to the rim and draw contact (6-for-6 at the foul line) to do the majority of his damage.

“The movement we had during the little stretch where I was scoring the ball, I think that’s something that we haven’t done as much as we should and as much as Coach advises us to,” Wilcher said. “I think that’s why I kind of got into a little groove, because we were just moving, they were chasing me a lot, so just a taking what they gave me type of deal.”

Nebraska will need all hands on deck, including a hopefully healthy Griesel and Wilcher in a rhythm, on Saturday as No. 4 Purdue visits Lincoln for Nebraska’s first home game since Boston College on Nov. 30.

“It’s a scary team,” Hoiberg said. “They’re No. 1 in the nation in offensive efficiency and they get 40% of their misses, so the glass is going to be huge. They’re so physical and so big. Obviously when you’re playing through [Zach] Edey, who I think is the most dominant player in the country right now, it just puts you in such a difficult position based on different coverages, and they can all shoot. They do a great job spreading the floor, they have great spacing and they run their stuff with so much purpose and pace.”

The Boilermakers are 68th in the country in effective field goal percentage (53.5%), 26th in turnover rate (just 15.7%) 12th in offensive rebounding rate (38.2%). Edy, the 7-foot-4, 290-pound junior center, is in the middle of all of that as he’s averaging 23.2 points on 60.8% shooting, 133 rebounds (5.3 offensive) and 1.9 blocks per game.

“He’s really worked on every aspect of his game and with the size that he has, he can see over the top of you obviously,” Hoiberg said. “You can bring multiple defenders and it doesn’t bother him because he can see over the top and when that shot goes up, if you don’t hit him you’re going to be under the rim. He’s got the length to go in there and finish over the top whatever happens. Matt [Painter] runs great stuff for him, for their bigs.”

Edey has spent the past two seasons in a rotation with Trevion Williams, an All-Big Ten talent in his own right, but now that Williams is gone, it’s the “Edey show” as Hoiberg put it. In addition to what he does from the field, Edey is attempting 7.7 free throws per game and connecting at a 73.9% rate. As a team, Purdue is 59th in the country in percentage of points that come from the foul line as the Boilermakers are shooting 77.9% on 21.7 attempts per game.

“What Edey has done and the amount of minutes he can play, playing 34, 35 minutes a game with his size, is so impressive,” Hoiberg said. “The kid’s got incredible stamina and he’s one of the most difficult players to prepare for just because of his size. Last year when we played them, Derrick [Walker] had two fouls and they were in the bonus before the first media timeout in both halves, which I don’t know if I’d ever seen that before, but that’s what they do to you with their physicality. It’s going to take everybody; maybe some guys who haven’t been out there much are going to have to have opportunities to go out there and take their turn just because of what he does and how they wear you down on the defensive end.”

Purdue runs everything through Edey and he’s taken a significant step forward this season, but the Boilermakers wouldn’t be a top-five team without the play of their freshman backcourt duo of Fletcher Loyer (12.1 points and 3.2 assists per game, 37% on 6.0 3-point attempts per game) and Braden Smith (9.4 points 4.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.7 steals per game, 42.3% from 3 on 2.9 attempts per game).

“You’ve got two guys who can really shoot it and you’ve got toughness in both of them … [Loyer] is a flame-thrower on the perimeter, shooting the ball really well, and again, that all has to do with Edey and the attention he draws,” Hoiberg said. “And I’ve been really impressed with Smith. His ability to get downhill, he’s tough, he guards, he leads them in steals and he’s third on that team in offensive rebounds. So they have great toughness with their freshman guards and the system that they run, they fit in very well.”

Saturday will provide a significant challenge for the Huskers, but they’re excited to be back in front of friendly faces at Pinnacle Bank Arena and are hoping to receive a boost from a packed house.

“I heard the game is sold out, so I’m excited for that personally,” Wilcher said. “I know my teammates are excited for it. We need the fans to be like our sixth man, give us that energy, help us get through lulls. There are going to be ups and downs throughout the game, so just help us get out of situations with their energy. It’s definitely very comforting to come back home and play against these guys.”

Hoiberg said he’s planning to buy breakfast pizza for the first 250 students who attend the game and knows the fans will be there to back the Huskers up.

“I think as I talked about early with this group, it’s a team that our fan base can really rally behind because of how much they compete and how hard they play every time they step on the floor,’ Hoiberg said. “Boston College was awesome, our fans were terrific in that game, and I think getting the big win that we did last Sunday generated a lot of interest.”

Tipoff on Saturday is set for 1:15 p.m. CT on Big Ten Network with Jeff Levering and Stephen Bardo.

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