Despite a strong effort from the bench, Nebraska’s offense dried up in the second half as Purdue pulled away for a 75-58 win at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Saturday evening.
Reserves scored 37 of Nebraska’s 58 points and Shamiel Stevenson led the Huskers with 10 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes. Thorir Thorbjarnarson added nine points on 3-of-6 from deep, a team-high four assists, four rebounds, two blocks and a steal. Both Stevenson and Thorbjarnarson played 21 minutes, and Nebraska was plus-9 with them on the floor.
“I’ve been here for a long time, and something that you learn is you have to always stay ready,” Thorbjarnarson said. “No matter how much you play and what game you get in, you have to always be ready. Especially with this season and how it’s gone, after COVID we’re coming back and we’re playing day after day after day after day. You have to always be ready. You never know when your opportunity is going to come and I think my mindset is always I want to be on the court, I can be on the court and when I’m on the court, I have to show I belong.”
Trey McGowens hit his first three shots and scored eight of Nebraska’s first 12 points, but he only shot the ball two more times and finished with nine points and three assists in a team-high 31 minutes. The other four starters scored 12 points on 6-of-22 shooting.
“They have been getting us off to good starts for the most part when you look at our numbers all season long,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “This was out of the ordinary for that group to fall behind almost double digits in the first five minutes. Some of it probably is fatigue, but I’m not going to let them off the hook with that. You have to find a way to muster up the energy, especially after two days to recharge, to get back after the crazy stretch that we just finished.
“We’ll get two more days now to head into Penn State, and then that’s probably going to be it as far as having multiple days before the next game. We’re going to have to find a way to try and keep them fresh and get them back in there. But I just didn’t think they had the same juice as those bench guys tonight and that’s why they played the majority of the minutes.”
Nebraska (5-15, 1-12 Big Ten) shot 34.9% from the field and 5-of-14 from the free-throw line. Purdue (15-8, 10-6) shot 46.9% from the field including 31.3% from deep, but the Boilermakers hit 10 3s (one more than Nebraska) and outscored the Huskers by 10 in the paint despite Trevion Williams finishing with just nine points, no assists and two turnovers.
Nebraska fell behind 12-4 out of the gates as the Husker missed five of their first seven shots and turned the ball over four times. The bench checked in and provided a spark as Stevenson got a steal, gave it up and got it back for the finish, then Thorbjarnarson turned another steal into an assist to McGowens for a 3.
Two more 3s — one by McGowens and one by Kobe Webster — capped an 11-2 run and gave the Huskers their first lead at 15-14. Five straight by Purdue put the Boilermakers back in front 19-15 before Stevenson buried a 3 — his third triple in the last five games after making one in his first 15 games combined.
The Huskers hit another rough patch with a starter-heavy unit as Purdue used a 12-4 run to take a 38-27 lead. The Boilermakers made six straight shots at one point during that run including three 3-pointers.
McGowens drew a foul in the bonus and hit the first free throw before missing the second. Yvan Ouedraogo grabbed the board and kicked it out to Thorbjarnarson for a 3 to make it a four-point possession. The Huskers forced turnovers on Purdue’s next two possessions and capitalized on the second as Thorbjarnarson drove the baseline and kicked it to Kobe Webster in the corner for a 3 with enough time left in the half to get another possession.
Jaden Ivey — who led Purdue with 13 points in the first half — threw down a tip-slam off a missed 3 for the Boilermakers, but Nebraska pushed it up the floor and Thorbjarnarson hit a step-back 3 at the buzzer to make it a 40-37 game at halftime.
“Thor was terrific,” Hoiberg said. “I was really pleased. He wasn’t hesitating. He missed his first one and then stepped right up and had no hesitation on the next one that he knocked down, and then hit a step-back which was awesome to see. He works, guys. He’s a guy that’s in the gym a lot. I had a good meeting with him yesterday and just told him to keep his confidence and keep looking for opportunities. It was great to see him being aggressive out there.”
Purdue shot 50% from the field and outscored Nebraska 18-12 in the paint, but the Huskers were plus-six from the 3-point line after shooting 7-of-17 from deep. McGowens led the Huskers with nine points, but the bench scored 24 of Nebraska’s 37. Thorbjarnarson, Stevenson and Webster were all plus-14 in the first half while all five starters were in the negative.
Hoiberg stuck with the lineup that got Nebraska back into the game — McGowens, Webster, Thorbjarnarson, Stevenson and Ouedraogo — to start the second half. Stevenson took it right to the rack on the first possession for a layup, then Thorbjarnarson knocked down a corner 3 to give Nebraska its first lead since 15-14. The Huskers pushed their lead to three at 49-46 after a 3 by Webster and a bucket by Teddy Allen — his first points of the game.
“I just felt they deserved to start the second half,” Hoiberg said. “I was going to play the guys that I felt gave us the best chance to be competitive and win the game, and that’s exactly what they did. They came out and kept that same great movement that they had in the first half and had us up three with 13 minutes left and I think down three with just over 10 to go. They played great basketball. They played together, that’s the thing that I liked about that group on both ends of the floor. They were covering for each other, our double-teams and rotations were a lot more crisp with that group and that’s why they got the minutes. You can just look at the plus-minus of our team tonight and it will show you that that was the group that deserved to be on the floor.”
The magic ran out at that point, however, as Purdue outscored Nebraska 21-4 over the next six-and-a-half minutes. The Huskers continued to generate some good looks but couldn’t get anything to fall.
“We kept battling,” Hoiberg said. “I thought we actually got some really good looks. ATO, we ran a couple, got wide opens 3s out of it. We just didn’t knock ‘em down. It’s Kobe and Lat [Mayen], two of our better shooters that had great looks from the 3-point line. Unfortunately they didn’t go down and then Purdue was making everything in that stretch and that’s when they opened it up.”
Nebraska made one last push as a pair of buckets by Allen cut the deficit to 10 with just over four minutes to play, but Purdue slammed the door shut with a pair of 3s by Stefanovic.
In total, the Boilermakers outscored the Huskers 29-9 over the last 13 minutes as Nebraska shot 28.1% from the field including 2-of-11 from 3 in the second half. Stefanovic scored all 14 of his points in the second half.
Nebraska will return to action against Penn State at home on Tuesday. The Huskers beat the Nittany Lions 62-61 for their only conference win of the season last Sunday. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. on Big Ten Network.