Photo Credit: Nebraska Athletics

Short-Handed Huskers Fall at No. 3 Purdue

January 13, 2023

Bad starts to each half doomed a short-handed Nebraska on the road Friday night as No. 3 Purdue topped Nebraska 73-55 at Mackey Arena.

Without starting point guard Sam Griesel (hip) and starting forward Juwan Gary (shoulder), the Huskers (9-9, 2-5 Big Ten) couldn’t generate enough offense to keep up with the high-powered Boilermakers (16-1, 5-1).

“Unfortunately we just did not get off to good starts in either half,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said during his post-game radio interview. “I think they scored the first 10 or 11, and the second half we had a couple of turnovers right out of the gate which got them going.”

Derrick Walker carried the team early and finished with 19 points, six rebounds and four assists. Keisei Tominaga added 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting (4-of-5 from 3) and Nebraska’s only two made free throws off the bench. Emmanuel Bandoumel started at point guard in Griesel’s absence and chipped in 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting (2-of-4 from 3).

However, the rest of the Huskers combined for just 10 points, and neither Denim Dawson nor Wilhelm Breidenbach (who started for Griesel and Gary) scored. Nebraska shot 43.4% from the field including 41.7% from 3.

Purdue shot 37.9% from 3 on much higher volume, outscoring the Huskers by 12 from deep to offset Nebraska’s eight-point edge in the paint. Purdue also went 16-for-20 from the foul line to turn the game into a blowout.

“I’m really pleased with the effort,” Hoiberg said. “Our guys fought. You’ve got your two best, probably, rebounders on the perimeter with Sam and Juwan out of the lineup tonight. They beat us up on the glass, they got into our body a little bit too much, but you’re missing two of your better guys in that category. I thought our guys really did battle and the final score wasn’t indicative of that game. We competed our butts off and we’ve got to continue with that.”

After limiting 7-foot-4 National Player of the Year front-runner Zach Edey to a season-low 11 points in their first meeting with Purdue, the Huskers held him to 12 points on Friday. However, freshman Fletcher Loyer took advantage of the defensive attention paid to Edey to score a career-high 27 points on 8-of-15 from the field including 6-of-12 from 3 and 5-of-6 from the foul line.

“Obviously Loyer hit tough shots in the first half and they scored a lot of their points in the 3-point line,” Hoiberg said. “We wanted to take away the paint and we outscored them 28-20 in the paint. That’s exactly what we wanted, but they just got hot from the 3-point line and the majority of those came from Loyer; I thought we lost him, came off help on the single side, which you can’t do. We did a great job on Edey once again for the second straight time, but again, those starts to both halves are what did us in.”

Nebraska’s defensive game plan worked early on in that it held Purdue without a 2-point field goal for more than 10 minutes, but Loyer took advantage of the double-teaming and scrambling to hit four of his first seven 3-point attempts. Braden Smith added a 3 as well to give Purdue a 15-4 lead early.

The Huskers stuck with their game plan, however, and shots stopped falling at the same rate for the Boilermakers while Walker put the team on his back. The 6-foot-9 senior scored 13 of Nebraska’s first 15 points (and assisted the other two) to keep the Huskers in it. His first career 3-pointer made it 21-15 Purdue 14 and a half minutes in.

After more than 15 minutes without getting a shot up, Edey followed a Loyer miss for a tip-slam, his first points of the game. Bandoumel answered with Nebraska’s first bucket that didn’t include Walker, but Edey scored again on a put-back.

Nebraska got buckets from Oleg Kojenets (playing alongside Walker after Bridenbach picked up a second foul) and Tominaga (a 3 and a layup) to cut the deficit down to five at 29-24, but the Boilermakers closed the half on a 6-0 run as Walker missed his last three shots against Edey’s interior defense.

The Boilermakers took a 35-24 lead into halftime despite shooting just 40% from the field (though seven of their 12 field goals were from deep). Nebraska shot 45.8% from the field and outscored Purdue 16-10 in the paint but only hit two 3-pointers and didn’t attempt a free throw.

Edey scored all seven of his points in the last five minutes to supplement Loyer’s game-high 16. Walker had 13 for Nebraska but Tominaga was the only other Husker with more than one bucket.

Halftime didn’t halt Purdue’s momentum in the slightest as the Boilermakers scored the first 11 points of the half to equal a 17-0 run, pushing the lead to 22. It took nearly four minutes before Nebraska scored on a driving bucket from Walker.

“I thought [Walker] got us off to the good start in the first half,” Hoiberg said. “He was really the only one that had any type of rhythm going on the offensive end, and then Keisei really got it going as the game went on. I thought our guys did a good job screening and getting him open at the top of the floor; when they jumped out he did a good job of hitting Derrick in the pocket. So it was good to see that that nice rhythm that we had going, we just have to be more consistent with it.”

Tominaga provided an offensive spark for Nebraska as the Huskers cut the deficit to 17 five different times, then a 3 from Bandoumel cut it to 15 with two minutes to play, but that’s as close as they got. Loyer put the finishing touches on the win with a 3 from the corner, his sixth, with a minute to play.

The Huskers shot 41.7% (5-of-12) from 3 in the second half and outscored the Boilermakers narrowly from deep and in the paint, but Purdue was plus-10 at the free-throw line to extend their halftime lead and prevent a comeback.

Nebraska will take the weekend off before returning to the practice court on Monday to prepare for Wednesday’s game against Ohio State at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Hoiberg told Big Ten Network before the game that he hops to get Griesel back in the lineup for that game, but Gary will be out for an extended period.

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