No. 5 Nebraska suffered its first loss away from home this season and saw a seven-match winning streak against Purdue snapped on Saturday night as the No. 20 Boilermakers knocked off the Huskers in five sets.
Offensive struggles early, defensive struggles in the middle and issues in both phases late resulted in Nebraska’s third loss of the season. The Boilermakers (14-5, 6-4 Big Ten) beat the Huskers (16-3, 8-2) for the first time since 2013, winning 23-25, 25-23, 25-17, 20-25, 15-8 at Holloway Gymnasium in West Lafayette.
Purdue hit .250, served up 11 aces and recorded 16 blocks. On the other side of the net, Nebraska hit .210 with seven aces and five blocks.
Junior outside hitter Lexi Sun had 18 assists, 17 digs and two aces but only hit .191. Collectively, the Huskers’ three starting outsides hit .119 with 25 attack errors. Freshman Madi Kubik, who had a career-high 22 kills against the Boilermakers in Lincoln last week, notched her third double-double of the season with 12 kills, 13 digs and two aces but only hit .050.
The Huskers were strong in the middle, however. Junior Lauren Stivrins had 18 kills on .361 hitting and sophomore Callie Schwarzenbach added eight kills without an error on 15 swings (.533 hitting).
Freshman libero Kenzie Knuckles led the Huskers with 18 digs while sophomore defensive specialist Megan Miller added 11 digs. Sophomore setter Nicklin finished with 54 aces, seven digs and three kills (on four attempts). Nebraska out-dug Purdue 71 to 63.
Purdue set the tone early with runs of 5-1, 4-0 and 5-0 to pull ahead 17-8. At that point, Purdue had just four kills on 16 swings (.250 hitting), but the Huskers had 10 errors to just seven kills on 27 attempts (-.111).
After splitting the next eight rallies, Nebraska mounted a comeback with an 8-0 run served by Kubik. She missed on her next serve, but Stivrins put down a kill to cut it to one again. A Purdue kill put the Boilermakers ahead 23-21 before the Huskers closed the set with a 4-0 run including an ace by Hames.
After falling behind 17-8, Nebraska held the Boilermakers to .000 hitting the rest of the way while converting 11 of their 15 swings into kills without any more miscues. Overall, Nebraska hit .190 in the first set and held Purdue to .118. Kubik led the Huskers with five kills.
Nebraska opened the second set with a 4-1 run including back-to-back aces by Sun but the Boilermakers responded with a 10-1 stretch to take an 11-5 lead. The Huskers did not record a kill and notched five errors in the first 16 rallies.
Stivrins got the Huskers on the board with their first kill at 11-6, but a Purdue kill and an error by Stivrins pushed the gap to seven. Nebraska gradually clawed back into the game, closing to within one at 18-17, but Purdue took the next three points aided by two more Nebraska attack errors. The Huskers nearly replicated their first-set comeback, winning six of the next seven rallies to take a 23-22 lead. However, this time Purdue ended the set with three straight kills to even the match at 1-1.
Purdue hit .178 and held Nebraska to .075 with eight more errors. Stivrins led the Huskers with four kills while Kubik cooled off with one kill and five errors.
Purdue took four of the first five rallies out of the intermission, then hit Nebraska with a 6-1 run to take an early 10-4 lead in the third. Nebraska strung together three straight to cut its deficit in half but Purdue answered with a 4-0 run. The Boilermakers stretched their lead to eight at 19-11 and that proved to be too big a deficit for the Huskers to overcome. Nebraska cut it to five but Purdue scored the last three points with a kill, an ace and a block.
Nebraska cut down on the errors and hit .286 but couldn’t find a way to slow down the Boilermakers who hit .419, recording their first and only attack error on the 39th rally of the set. Stivrins and Sun had four kills apiece for Nebraska.
Nebraska’s clean play continued into the fourth set as the Huskers took a 10-6 lead featuring seven kills before their first attack error. The lead bounced between two and four until a 3-0 Nebraska run pushed it to five at 16-11. Purdue closed to within one at 19-18 and 20-19, but Nebraska scored five of the final six points to send the match to a fifth game. Jazz Sweet closed it out with an overpass smash.
Nebraska out-hit Purdue .381 to .294 behind five kills apiece from Stivrins and Sun.
Purdue raced out to a 7-1 lead despite just one kill thanks to three attack, two serve receive and one ball-handling errors by the Huskers. Stivrins put together a personal 3-0 run with two kills sandwiching a solo block, but Purdue pushed the lead back to six at 12-6. After four straight sideouts, Purdue blocked Sun to end the match.
Nebraska hit .000 in the fifth with five kills and five errors while Purdue hit .312 with three aces.
Nebraska will be back at the Devaney Center next weekend to host Rutgers and No. 8 Penn State.
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.