Nebraska got the monkey off its back in a big way on Sunday afternoon, snapping its five-game losing streak with an 83-80 win over No. 20 Purdue.
Sunday was more than just a game day, however, as it also served as the annual Avery Strong Day as part of the Coaches vs. Cancer campaign.
“This is a very important day for us for a lot of reasons,” Coach Tim Miles said. “Obviously the win caps it off but our Coaches vs. Cancer and Avery Strong Day, that really means something to this group. It’s a personal connection, the way Kristin Eichorst has organized the swabs and the bone marrow registry, I know we had four matches and that could be four saved lives. I think just all of that combined with such a thrilling game, really made it for a great day. I just wanted to start with that.”
The Huskers got a season-high 39 points off their bench with two players who have bounced in and out of the rotation in sophomore forward Jack McVeigh and freshman forward Jeriah Horne finishing as Nebraska’s top two scorers with 21 points and 16 points, respectively. Together they shot 6-of-11 from 3-point range, and Horne grabbed seven rebounds while McVeigh blocked two shots.
“I think a lot of guys contributed tonight and it’s just huge, especially for guys like Jack and Jeriah,” senior guard Tai Webster said. “Obviously their minutes have not been the same lately, for them to just come in and contribute is just a true show to their character that those young guys have to just stay the course and be faced with adversity and just come through. We couldn’t have done it without those big plays by those guys tonight.”
Miles decided to switch his starting lineup up and gave freshman center Jordy Tshimanga his first career start in part to better match up with Purdue’s 6-foot-9, 250-pound sophomore player of the year candidate Caleb Swanigan. Even with the bigger starting line-up, Nebraska brought plenty of double teams throughout the game and held Purdue to 13-of-38 (34.2 percent) inside the arc.
However, the double-teaming on Purdue’s post touches in the first half which opened up the perimeter, and Purdue raced out to a 9-2 lead behind three 3-pointers by three different Boilermakers.
Jack McVeigh checked in for Tshimanga at the 17:05 mark and immediately knocked down a 3-pointer, and Tai Webster followed it up with a fast break layup to get the Huskers going.
Purdue knocked down another 3-pointer and led 12-7 at the first media timeout behind 4-of-7 shooting from deep. Matt Painter subbed in his 7-foot-2, 290-pound junior center, Isaac Haas, following the media timeout and Miles countered by putting the 6-foot-11, 275-pound Tshimanga to battle with him in the post.
The Huskers went cold for a stretch, hitting just one of 10 shots, but Glynn Watson Jr. reignited the offense with a 3-pointer, then Horne made his presence felt after not playing at all in the Huskers’ last game. Junior guard Evan Taylor picked off a pass, pushed it up the court and found Horne for a 3, then after a stop and a rebound, Tshimanga threw an outlet to Horne running the floor and the 6-foot-7 freshman slammed it home to pull Nebraska within one.
Purdue killed Nebraska’s run with a 3-pointer — which turned out to be a trend in the game. However, Nebraska recovered with a bucket by Michael Jacobson and a 3-pointer by Watson to take the lead 22-21.
Purdue briefly regained the lead on a jumper by Swanigan, but the Huskers closed out the half on a 17-10 run to lead 39-33 at halftime.
Purdue regrouped at halftime and tightened up on defense, holding Nebraska to 2-of-11 shooting to start the half to take a 49-45 lead almost six minutes into the half. McVeigh broke the Huskers out of their slump with an old-fashioned three-point play, but Purdue answered with a couple more 3s sandwiched around a jumper by Horne to make it 55-50.
The deficit swung back and firth between one and seven points over the next six minutes until Jacobson scored five straight points to take a 65-63 lead. The lead changed hands a few more times, but three triples by Mathias put the Boilermakers up five with 2:24 to play.
After a series of free throws, Purdue held a one-point lead and the ball with less than a minute remaining, and the Boilermakers went to their player of the year candidate on Swanigan on the block.
Jacobson stood his ground against Swanigan’s move and stripped the ball from him, then ran the floor and put a missed 3-pointer McVeigh back up and in to retake the lead with 40.5 seconds to play.
“I feel like that’s been our whole season, especially in the Big Ten,” Horne said about rallying from behind to take the lead. “Unfortunately, we’ve lost a couple ones, but tonight I feel like we just came together even more. We were able to get over the hump, and we made sure we had each others’ backs. It’s really important when we’re huddling together and talking through things, that shows a lot about our team.”
Purdue went back to Swanigan inside, and this time the Huskers brought a double-team, forcing a three seconds in the lane violation for another turnover. McVeigh was sent to the line with 25.1 remaining, and he split a pair to make it a two-point game. Purdue went to Swanigan again, and again Nebraska doubled, forcing the kick out pass. However, Nebraska covered the first pass and the swing pass went off Mathias’ shoe right into Watson’s hands.
Watson hit both free throws to put the Huskers up four with 10.5 to go. Mathias drew a foul and hit both to make it a on-score game again, and McVeigh split another pair of bonus free throws, opening the door for the Boilermakers to tie it at the buzzer.
This time, fortune smiled on the Huskers as the shot by Mathias went long.
“We battled, like in other games, when you put yourself in a situation where anything is possible,” McVeigh said. “I’m sure, as anyone who’s been watching the Big Ten knows that no game is a joke. Every win is a good win, and that’s been proven here in conference play. That was a big win for the morale and in terms of positioning and everything. It was good. We got the win as a team.”
Jacobson came up big down the stretch and finished with nine points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes despite playing through illness. Miles said on more than one occasion he tried to sub Jacobson back into the game only to find he was back in the locker room throwing up.
Webster struggled all game with his jump shot but still finished with 15 points, eight rebounds, and six assists while Watson added 12 points.
Purdue shot 14-of-24 (58.3 percent) from 3-pint range, but Nebraska out-rebounded the bigger Purdue team 40-35 and outscored the Boilermakers on the offensive glass 17-13 to make up for it.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.