Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Short-Handed Huskers Heading to Mackey Arena for Round Two with Purdue

January 12, 2023

Nebraska will be without a key piece on Friday as the Huskers travel to Mackey Arena to take on No. 3 Purdue.

Coach Fred Hoiberg said on Thursday that junior forward Juwan Gary will not play after leaving Tuesday’s loss to Illinois with a left shoulder injury.

“He’s got pretty significant swelling in his shoulder and he’ll be day-to-day moving forward,” Hoiberg said. “I won’t get too into exactly what it is — I’ll leave that up to the doctors to talk about it — but for the time being, we’re going to take it slow with him. He’s got pretty good swelling, he’s got a lot of pain in that shoulder, so he will not he will not play tomorrow.”

Gary is averaging 9.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and a team-high 1.4 steals in 29.5 minute per game and has started every game at the four spot this season.

Hoiberg said either Wilhelm Breidenbach or Denim Dawson will start in Gary’s place. Dawson started the second half against Illinois following Gary’s injury while Breidenbach scored 11 points in nine minutes off the bench after picking up three fouls in four minutes in the first half.

“We’ll go through it again in the morning and get our shoot-around time and then make the decision from there,” Hoiberg said. “It’s just a matter of if I want to continue with Wilhelm, he’s been comfortable in that role coming off the bench playing both front court spots. Denim gives you a guy that can obviously really defend at a high level out there and has a lot of intangibles. So it’s just two completely different types of players with different skill sets, but both those guys will be on the floor a lot tomorrow.”

Breidenbach has scored in double figures in three of his last six games after doing so one in his first 21 games as a Huskers. He’s averaging 7.8 points on 52.9% shooting (including 5-of-13 from 3) and 857% free-throw shooting with 4.2 rebounds in 15.7 minutes per game during that stretch.

“I think he’s done a terrific job by going out there and being aggressive,” Hoiberg said. “He’s hunting his shot a lot more than he was. You can see the confidence building in Wilhelm’s game and we need him to make shots. Obviously we’re struggling to shoot the ball and we put him at the five in the last game with the drop coverage and he was able to take advantage of that a few times … We need him to be aggressive and he’s been terrific. I’ve been really proud of him for how he’s continued to battle. He’s coming in, getting a lot of extra work and it’s good to see that pay off.”

Dawson the 6-foot-6 redshirt freshman, most closely replicates Gary from a body type and still set standpoint, but he’s seen his role fluctuate and has only scored 19 points in 15 games, eight of which cam against Omaha back on Nov. 10. Dawson has played 10, 15 and 16 minutes in his last three games after logging just 34 in his previous seven appearances with two DNP-CDs. Hoiberg wants to see Dawson “just continue to be who he is” with this opportunity for extended playing time.

“He’s given us great minutes,” Hoiberg said. “I thought at Michigan State he was maybe as good as anybody we had that game and gave us great minutes guarding [Jamison] Battle in the game against Minnesota. He’s playing well, he’s playing with confidence, doing the things Denim does, getting extra possessions for us. Hopefully he can get some offensive rebounds; we’re going to miss that a lot with Juwan’s absence, so good opportunity for him to go out there and get extended minutes.”

Hoiberg said he expects the team will continue to compete without Gary, but one player won’t be able to replace what the 6-foot-6 brings to the lineup. It’s unclear at this point how many games Gary will miss, but Nebraska will need everyone to step up while he’s sidelined. 

“We miss everything; he just gives you so many different things,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a glue guy out there on the floor. He got us off to a great start at Minnesota — hit a 3, hit a nice little pull-up jumper, he’s been more confident with that. I think he’s playing more within himself maybe than he was earlier in the year, but you saw what he did with those two put-backs at the end of the game. Offensive rebounds, he’s a scrapper, he can guard, really, one through five if we’re in any type of switching defense. Other than that, we won’t miss him very much.”

The Huskers will also be without starting point guard Sam Griesel, who is a late scratch because of a hip issue according to a Nebraska spokesperson ahead of Friday’s tipoff. The 6-foot-7 guard is averaging 11.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and a team-high 4.2 assists. Purdue will be the second game he’s missed this season after the illness sidelined him for Nebraska’s 81-65 loss at Indiana on Dec. 7.

The Huskers (9-8, 2-4 Big Ten) gave Purdue (15-1, 4-1) as tough of a test as the Boilermakers have faced all season outside of their loss to Rutgers when the teams faced off at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Dec. 10. Nebraska took Purdue to overtime and held National Player of the Year frontrunner Zach Edey to a season-low 11 points in a 65-62 loss.

“It was it was a great performance,” Hoiberg said. “Our guys were all over the place on the defensive end. You’re playing the most dominant player in the country in Edey and I thought we were really on point with getting there on the catch, not giving him anything easy. He’s always going to be a force — I think he had 12 points and 17 or 18 rebounds — but you’ve got to make him work for it and I thought our rotations were good. I thought we were flying around on the backside.”

Nebraska did everything it could have defensively but just came up a few buckets short of pulling off the upset despite 19 points off the bench from Keisei Tominaga and a 14-point, 10-rebound double-double from Derrick Walker against the 7-foot-4 Edey.

“We had plenty of chances with free throws that we didn’t convert and then we had, I think, four opportunities on that last possession where we just couldn’t get it to go in the hoop,” Hoiberg said. “But I was really proud of how our guys competed. You know you’re in for a battle anytime you go into a Purdue’s home arena; it’s the best atmosphere in our league and it’s going to be a tall order, especially without a guy that gives you great physicality on the road.”

Edey is averaging 21.9 points on 63.1% shooting, 13.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. Freshman guard Fletcher Loyer — who put up 22 points on 21 shots in game one against Nebraska — is second at 12.4 points per game while shooting 35% from 3. Freshman point guard Braden Smith is chipping in 9.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.0 assist while shooting 43.8% from 3.

According to KenPom, Purdue is second in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency and 27th in defense. As a team, the Boilermakers are only shooting 32.2% from 3 (249th in the country) but they’re second in the country in offensive rebounding percentage, corralling nearly 40% of their misses. Purdue only turns the ball over on 16.4% of their possession (42nd-best) but it doesn’t force turnovers on the other end either (15.7%, 334th).

Tipoff on Friday is set for 6 p.m. CT on Big Ten Network with Dave Revsine and Stephen Bardo on the call.

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