If you had told me that Hannah Whitish would score ZERO points against Purdue, I would have been pretty sure the Huskers had lost.
Fortunately, future B1G Freshman-of-the-Week Leigha Brown filled up the left side of the stats sheet with the first 30 point performance by a Husker in two seasons. Twenty-two of those points were scored in the second half; 13 in the final quarter, and six in the final minute.
Nebraska improved to 6-7 in the Big Ten and 11-13 overall while setting a school record with its 12th game of the season decided by two possessions or less. Purdue slipped to 16-10 overall and 7-6 in the conference. The Huskers are currently in a tie for 9th place in the conference standings, but are within one game of 5th. It is a logjam in the B1G.
Nebraska, which had lost five straight games decided by six or fewer points, finally notched its second narrow win of the Big Ten season, joining a 63-57 victory over then-No. 23 Minnesota on Jan. 20.
Trailing by eight points early in the fourth at 50-42, Nebraska got seven straight points from Brown to change the momentum - she helped cut the margin to 54-49. Sam Haiby, who finished with seven points, got four points around a Kate Cain bucket to help the Huskers climb within 57-55 with 4:11 left. Purdue’s offense was stuck in neutral with only two field goals in the first 9:30 of the fourth quarter.
Cain, who finished with six of her eight points in the game in the fourth quarter, scored on back-to-back baskets at 2:31 and 1:44 to give Nebraska its first lead of the half at 59-58.
Then Brown hit the game’s biggest shot with her three-pointer at the one-minute mark to push the Husker lead to 62-58. On the ensuing possession, Brown pulled down a huge defensive rebound and was immediately fouled with 45.8 seconds left. Brown stepped to the line and sank both free throws to push NU’s lead to 64-58.
Kayana Traylor sank a three with 23 seconds to keep Purdue within reach, but a free throw by Brown with 21.9 left, and two free throws by Kissinger with 9.3 seconds left gave the Huskers the 67-61 win.
Brown’s 30 points came on 8-of-14 shooting from the field, including 4-of-6 threes, while she also knocked down 10-of-12 free throws. In the most aggressive game of her young career, Brown drew nine fouls on Purdue players. She added four rebounds and two steals in 24 minutes on the day.
While Brown’s offense carried the Huskers in the second half, junior Nicea Eliely set the tone for the Nebraska defense. Eliely finished with nine points, five rebounds, three blocks and two steals. In a low-scoring first half, Eliely helped keep the Huskers close.
Kissinger added eight points and four rebounds for the Big Red, but did not hit a three in the game. Hannah Whitish, who scored 28 points in an 84-64 win at Purdue on Jan. 31, went scoreless in the rematch but finished with five assists and five rebounds. Most of her assists came in the final period as Nebraska executed well down the stretch to outscore the Boilermakers 25-13. Credit Whitish for not forcing up shots and instead feeding the ball to the hot hands.
Freshman Kayla Mershon also played a major role on the defensive end for the Huskers, finishing with five rebounds, two steals and a block along with two assists and Nebraska’s only other three-pointer on the afternoon.
For the game, Nebraska hit 38.5 percent (20-52) of its shots from the field, including 5-of-13 threes (.385), while knocking down 22-of-28 free throws (.786). The Huskers also won the turnover battle, 19-14. Purdue outrebounded Nebraska 36-31.
Two Good Things
- A sorely needed win in a close game will only help this young team gain confidence as the Big Ten tournament approaches.
- Downtown Leigha Brown is (rightfully) going to get a lot of attention for her huge performance but Nicea Eliely is (IMHO) the Huskers’ most valuable player over the entire season. Much like Jasmine Cincore last season, Eliely sets the tone with her defense. She rarely puts up gaudy stats but is always putting numbers into multiple columns, points, rebounds, steals, assists, and blocks.
Two Not-So-Good Things
- The #10 team in the country, Maryland, is next up on the schedule. The Huskers played with the Terps for three quarters the last time they met but Nebraska got run out of the building in the fourth. The Husker defense has taken a lot of steps forward since that lgame, but I don’t think it will be enough to finally grab that first-ever win against Maryland.
- You never want to see your all-conference point guard get blanked in the scoring column. I recognize that a point guard is so much more than a scorer and Whitish led the team in assists and co-led in rebounds last night. She was all over the floor and putting her teammates in position for success. However, the Huskers need more consistency on the offensive end and a lot of that starts with Whitish. She has really started to pick up steam since the first Maryland game, so I’m hopeful last night was just a small step back.
Nebraska’s next game is on Thursday, when the Huskers travel to No. 10 Maryland. Tip-off between the Big Red and the Terrapins is set for 7 p.m. (CT) with live television coverage from the Big Ten Network.