Lethargic Start Comes Back to Haunt Huskers
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Lethargic Start Comes Back to Haunt Huskers, Who Fall 76-68 to Purdue

January 23, 2020

Purdue head coach Sharon Versyp said this is the expectation for forward Ae’Rianna Harris every night. “This” being the 25 points and nine rebounds she got against the Huskers Wednesday night. Harris, a usual starter, came off the bench—Versyp said she wanted to start the women who had earned it—after a few lackluster performances and immediately went to work in the post. She turned over her right shoulder down low twice for hook shots, then went baseline over her left shoulder. She was 6-for-6 shooting by halftime.

And Nebraska was down 39-29.

But that sounds better than it actually was. The Huskers fell down as many as 21 points in the second quarter. “The way we started is where we really dug ourselves way too big a hole,” Nebraska head coach Amy Williams said after the game.

The Huskers tried to come back, but Purdue closed the door on that with a 17-5 run to close the game and walked out of Pinnacle Bank Arena with a 76-68 win over the Huskers.

Nebraska is now 14-5 on the season, losers of three of their last four, and just 4-4 in conference play.

There really are two lenses through which Wednesday night’s game could be viewed. Nebraska’s fight to get back into the game was nothing short of admirable. Freshman forward Issie Bourne led a reserve charge that saw NU close the second quarter on an 11-0 run and the third quarter on a 9-0 run.

It was a four-point game heading into the fourth after Bourne, who finished with seven points, four rebounds and a steal, grabbed an offensive board in traffic and layed it back up and in. The fourth quarter started with Nebraska scoring 13 of the first 18 points and taking a 63-59 lead with 4:30 left.

There are positives to take from that kind of fight. Nebraska has a quick turnaround, flying out to Madison, Wisconsin, Friday for an 11 a.m. tip against the Badgers on Saturday. But it wanted this game no matter how much energy needed to be expended in the middle portions to get back into it.

Of course the other side of things, and the lasting impression Williams will have, ultimately one of disappointment, is that Nebraska made things too difficult on itself by sleep-walking through the first 15 minutes of the game.

Purdue hit 17 of its first 24 shots. It got whatever it wanted on Nebraska’s end of the floor.

“And then to fight and scratch back and take a lead, we knew they were going to punch and we just didn’t secure it,” Williams said. "We’ve been trying to push for more toward 40 minutes and tonight we didn’t come even close.”

After Nebraska took its fourth-quarter lead, Purdue hit five straight. Asked whether that was execution-related or more to do with tired legs, Williams sided with the former.

“They had great execution on their end, but they ran a few looks that we kind of knew they run and we didn’t really defend the way we wanted to defend,” she said. “We gave up shots to the players we didn’t want to give shots to.”

Starting point guard Karissa McLaughlin had 19 points with three made 3s and six makes from the free throw line. Guard Dominique Oden had 14 points. And then there was Harris’ 25. Versyp said that’s Purdue’s offensive engine, that’s the trio that drives offensive success for them. Nebraska couldn’t keep any of them away from their spots.

“Defensively, when we’re good, that’s what we’re good at, is being able to take away looks for the people that they really want to get good looks for,” Williams said. “We didn’t do that today. That’s disappointing.”

Alternatively, Purdue wanted to remove senior Husker point guard Hannah Whitish from the equation. She had six points on five shots, and one assist against three turnovers. The Boilermakers got up in her face and forced turnovers early. Guard Sam Haiby had to run the show instead and she finished 4-of-16.

“The message is that we have another opportunity on Saturday and we’ve got to figure out how to take this show on the road and find a way to win away from here,” Williams said, when asked what she tells the team after just its second home loss of the year. “Everybody that we play from here forward is going to be hungry and we just need to make sure we are more.”

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