USA TODAY Sports
In a season where little was expected, the Huskers found another way to surprise. The Huskers went into Chicago and captured the first Big Ten Tournament win in program history.
The Purdue Boilermakers were the best rebounding team in the Big Ten this season. They collected nearly 40 per game. The Huskers were a rebound better than Northwestern in the offensive rebounding category. Every other team in the conference was better than Nebraska at rebounding the basketball. This game, however, may very well have been decided on the rebound the Boilermakers did not secure and the offensive rebound the Huskers did.
The Huskers started the game riding the hot shooting of freshman Shavon Shields who scored Nebraska's first seven points. Without the strong start from the frosh, it could have been a very long night for Big Red. This was a night where Dylan Talley, who Mike Tirico told us was under the weather, and Ray Gallegos were not as good offensively as they have been on most nights for the Huskers. Shields' 19 led all scorers.
The Huskers took a two point lead into the halftime break and threatened to run Purdue right out of the United Center. Dylan Talley's first bucket of the game, a three from the left corner pushed the Husker lead to 11 points. That was as big as it would get. Purdue started chipping away, getting Husker killer D.J. Byrd into a little bit of a rhythm. Byrd scored 12 of his 15 in the comeback effort. His three with 4:14 drew the Boilermakers to a single point and the Huskers and their fans were nervous. They've seen this script too many times. This time, however, the Huskers made the plays down the stretch to move on a showdown with the second seeded Ohio State Buckeyes.
There are many things that have been improbable about this season for the Huskers. Not many expected them to find ten wins with this schedule. They got 15. Not many thought they could win two games in what turned out to be far and away the best conference in college basketball. They got five (and I will humbly remind you that this writer predicted that number), now they have six wins in Big Ten match-ups. Nobody expected the Huskers to come back vs. Iowa after falling behind by 19 in the first half, but they did. And not many gave the Huskers much of a chance to get by Purdue. But, as fate would have it, they did that too. When the Huskers take the court tomorrow vs. the Buckeyes, a team that has defeated the Huskers by an average of 24 points in the four games the two teams have played. There won't be may giving the Huskers much chance in that one, either. That's not going to stop the Huskers from giving the Bucks everything they've got. That's exactly what they've done all year and they get one more opportunity to do it again.