Nebrasketball happened again. The victim this time: Purdue. That makes five straight victories for the Huskers, if you're counting at home. After starting 0-4 in conference play, the Huskers are now 8-6 in the conference, half a game behind Ohio State and Iowa for fourth place and one game behind Wisconsin, who will come into Pinnacle Bank Arena to close out the regular season. Much could could ride on the outcome of that game.
This game started about as ugly as could be, however. Neither team had much success trying to score points. Half way through the first half, the score was 9-9. That would change, however as the Huskers were able to right the ship. The Husker crowd, however was not raised from their seats from any high flying dunks from Walter Pitchford or a step back three from Terran Petteway. Those would come later. The fans this day were thrilled by the play of their secondary players Benny Parker and David Rivers.
Parker, when the Huskers were frustrated by the interior defense of Purdue and struggling to score points, gave the team a spark with his defense. Parker, all 5' 9" of him went to work on the defensive end, causing a tie up with the tallest player on the court, Purdue's A.J. Hammons, set up Nathan Hawkins for a go ahead 3 to put the Husker up 12-11 and would never trail again. He also scored on an acrobatic lay up, causing the crowd to chant his name. Parker the pest is becoming a fan favorite and an aggravation of the highest order for Big Ten guards.
Rivers had a nice game for himself as well. In the middle of the season, many openly questioned Rivers' role on the team. He was getting sparse playing time, at best and not playing all the well when his opportunities came. As conference play has progressed, however, so has David Rivers. After playing 28 minutes and collecting seven rebounds vs. Illinois on Feb. 12, despite not scoring a point, Tim Miles made a change. To the bench went senior Ray Gallegos, in came junior Rivers. The past four games dating back to that game vs. the Illini, all Rivers has done is lead the team in rebounding. He's picked up 27 points in that stretch, or two fewer than budding superstar Terran Petteway scored today, but the Huskers do not have this success without Rivers.
Petteway, as mentioned scored 29 points, topping the 20 point mark for the third consecutive game and tenth time this season. He did it in his usual fashion. Just about every way you can think. He hit threes, layups in transition, step back jumpers and from the free throw line. To combine that with Shavon Shields' second career double double and Walter Pitchford's seventh game out of eight in double figures, the Huskers have an emerging sophomore trio that will be a force to be reckoned with for the next couple of years in the Big Ten.
With the win, the Huskers have clinched an overall winning record, they will be playing in the post season. But they want more. They currently sit alone in sixth place in the Big Ten, half a game behind Ohio State and Iowa for fourth place and a game behind Wisconsin for third. Those Badgers, yeah, they come to Lincoln the final game of the year. There is a chance that game could have the weight of 15 years of futility and a bye in the conference tournament on the line. But that can wait for another day and several things have to happen for that to be an option. The first is that the Huskers have matched their longest conference winning streak since 1999, they look to take their show on the road. The Huskers will gun for their sixth straight win and third consecutive conference road win for the first time since 1998. They'll take their shot at it Wednesday night vs. Illinois. Until then, the conversation about the Huskers NCAA tournament resume and whether or not their argument is stronger for entry into the tournament than Georgetown's or Tennessee's. Embrace the ride, Husker fans. This is the season you've been waiting for for 17 years.