Run it Back: Huskers' Frontcourt Steps Up Against Purdue
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Run it Back: Huskers’ Frontcourt Steps Up Against Purdue

January 30, 2017

In a season where very little makes sense, Nebraska’s 83-80 win over No. 20 Purdue at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Sunday shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise. That Purdue had won three straight against the Huskers and appeared to be a terrible match-up with five 40-plus-percent 3-point shooters and two monsters inside perhaps just made this result all the more likely.

Nebraska has beaten Indiana, Maryland and now Purdue. The Huskers have also lost to Gardner-Webb, Ohio State and Rutgers. I’m not even going to try to figure out this team anymore; it’s not worth it. Let’s just go with the flow.

That’s certainly what Tim Miles did on Sunday. Jack McVeigh and Jeriah Horne have taken turns falling out of the rotation, with each of them receiving a DNP-CD during Big Ten play. Heck, Horne’s came in Nebraska’s last outing at Northwestern. But Miles gave them both a chance against the Boilermakers, and after both made plays early Miles rode the hot hands to victory.

Isaiah Roby, who I thought played fairly well in four minutes of action in the first half with a put-back and a stint defending Purdue’s sophomore stud Caleb Swanigan, did not play in the second half. McVeigh played 33 minutes and Horne 24 – both of them off the bench.

Miles rode the hot hand and basically cut his rotation to seven players. The one position Nebraska is deep at is at the forward spot, and that gives Miles options. McVeigh, Horne and Roby all bring something different to the table, and in this game, Miles appropriately decided Horne and McVeigh’s shooting gave Nebraska the best chance to win.

McVeigh is now shooting 48.3 percent from 3-point range in Big Ten play, pushing him past Glynn Watson Jr. for first on the team after shooting 4-of-6 from deep and tying his career-high with 21 points to lead all scorers. He didn’t just shoot, though; the Aussie also made a few plays on defense, blocking two shots and playing a big role in Nebraska’s post-doubling strategy, and he also took it to the basket for an old-fashioned three-point play.

Horne added 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including two dunks and two 3-pointers, and also added seven rebounds and an assist. Purdue coach Matt Painter said the Boilermakers didn’t even spend much time scouting him since he did not play in Nebraska’s previous game.

Roby had been starting next to Michael Jacobson with Ed Morrow Jr. on the shelf, but both players have struggled since Morrow went down. To change things up and perhaps better match up with Purdue, Miles decided to give freshman center Jordy Tshimanga his first career start.

The game got off to a rough start for Tshimanga. He missed all three of his shots and both of his free throws and turned the ball over twice in the first half. However, he also managed to play 12 minutes before picking up his third foul, an impressive feat for a freshman who was averaging eight fouls per 40 minutes heading into the game, and he played a part in holding Purdue to 33 points and 6-of-21 shooting inside the arc.

Unfortunately, Tshimanga picked up his fourth foul 56 seconds into the second half and had to sit out for the next seven minutes before returning. Tshimanga continued to struggle when he returned, splitting a pair of free throws and missing another shot. Miles sat him down again after just two minutes, but gave him one last shot at the 6-minute mark and Tshimanga delivered.

The Huskers went right to Tshimanga on the block, and he used his body against the 250-pound Swanigan to create an angle for the finish to put the Huskers up one. Purdue hit a couple of 3-pointers to go ahead by five, but Nebraska again got the ball inside to Tshimanga and again he used his size to carve out space for a finish plus Swanigan’s fourth foul. He completed to the three-point play to pull Nebraska within two with 2:04 to play.

Tshimanga fouled out on the next possession on a tough call, but he put together perhaps the best stretch on both ends of the floor of his young career in that last stint.

“If you look at the analytic numbers, he’s as big of a playmaker as this guy over her on my left, Tai [Webster],” Miles said after the game. “It’s either feast or famine with him. It’s either really good things or ‘Oh my goodness, what just happened?’ For him to play defense one-on-one the way he did and play well on the offensive end too was really critical to his confidence and just his growth and development. We started him tonight because I think we’re at a point where he can do some of those things. He’s got to get out there, and sometimes starters get a little more rope than the back-ups.”

Finally, Jacobson had another rough outing offensively, recording nine points on 3-of-10 shooting, but in this case it was more than justified. Jacobson played 23 minutes, made a couple of key offensive plays down the stretch and played phenomenal defense against one of the most destructive forces in college basketball in Swanigan in the final moments all while playing through illness. Miles said Jacobson had to run back to the locker room to vomit multiple times during the first half and he had to get an IV during halftime.

Nebraska’s backcourt has been its driving force all season, but on Sunday afternoon it was the frontcourt that stepped up and made the difference.

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