Number-15 ranked Purdue comes into Lincoln on a wintry Saturday afternoon, a game that was meant to be played two hours later but got moved due to incoming weather. Nebraska, who has dropped eight of their last ten, looks to find any sort of hope to somehow make the tournament. Or any tournament. Somehow, the ESPN BPI still gives Tim Miles and company a 44 percent chance to win.
The game got started off with a rare three-pointer from Glynn Watson Jr., which was immediately answered by Grady Eifert and Carsen Edwards. Not to be outdone, Watson hit another three with the shot clock winding down to tie the game at sixes. After a Carsen Edwards jumper, an empty Husker possession led to Isaiah Roby blocking Trevion Williams to take us into the U16 media timeout.
Then the craziest thing happened once play resumed: another Watson three. A Boilermaker layup, then Thomas Allen joined the three-point party with Watson driving to the rim immediately after to give the Huskers a 14-10 lead. After a quick 6-2 Purdue run, Roby hit a three to give the Huskers a 19-16 lead going into the U12.
But coming out of the break, Purdue made sure to dash any doubt they were the better team, going on a quick 8-0 to open up a five-point lead. That got cut to one with a personal four-point run by Watson, which was followed up by an Roby jumper and a potential and-one for Nana Akenten off Roby’s steal going into the U8 timeout. Akenten missed the free throw but the Huskers still lead 27-24.
Purdue regained the lead with six minutes left off two Matt Haarms free throws. On Purdue’s next possession, Amir Harris would block Carsen Edwards, the Big Ten’s leading scorer, from behind and save it in bounds. It would be for not as Nebraska couldn’t capitalize and their over three-minute scoring drought continued. Some back and forth into the U4 media timeout would see Purdue leading, 33-31.
Two scoreless minutes for both teams would go by until James Palmer Jr. got himself on the scoreboard with a three. Points were traded until Palmer’s offensive foul with 30 seconds to go, which led to a Ryan Cline three with five seconds left. Purdue led 38-36 at the half. Watson has a team-leading 15 points.
The second half started with a Tanner Borchardt free throw, who got a second chance on his second miss due to a line violation. Haarms made a quick hook shot and then fouled Roby on an attempted dunk, but the refs must have missed it. A Purdue offensive foul gave the Huskers the ball, which was then stolen back by Carsen Edwards, which was then blocked by Roby, which was then stolen by Borchardt. Hard to follow? Yeah, it was definitely a wild sequence. The next Huskers bucket is easier to follow.
A successful Haarms and-one took us into the U16 timeout. The foul was Roby’s third of the game. Purdue led 45-39, their largest lead of the game. Watson would score to make sure the lead wouldn’t get any larger. Amir Harris, perhaps the Huskers’ best bench player, would get fouled while making a sky layup, but missed his free throw. Roby picked up his fourth foul on the other end, where Edwards would make two from the charity stripe.
Palmer would drive for a layup, but three offensive rebounds for Purdue next trip down led to another Cline three-pointer, giving Purdue a 50-45 lead with just over 12 minutes. Amir Harris grabbed a board and went straight down to score before the U12 timeout, cutting the lead to three.
Points were traded after the timeout, but Haarms would be fouled on a shot once again. Can’t defend his 7-foot, three-inch frame with Borchardt and a four-foul Roby. Akenten would answer with his own layup off a good cut and pump fake. Nana and Amir Harris have 13 combined points off the bench in the second half. Blown defense on a Haarms dunk forced Miles to call a timeout. Huskers down 56-51 with eight minutes left.
Coming out of the break and off an Edwards offensive foul, Watson would drain another three-pointer, cutting the lead to two, 56-54. Buckets were traded both ways up to the U4 timeout, including a wild Thomas Allen jumper to cut the lead to 60-58.
After being burned by offensive rebounds all days, Nebraska got one for themselves, leading to a Borchardt and-one to cut the lead back to one point. A quick turnover by Purdue gave the Huskers the ball back with two and a half left, but Palmer forced a jumper. A lockdown Huskers’ defense forced a tipped Edwards three, but Eifert grabbed it in midair and put it in for two. A forced Allen three-pointer put a halt in any Huskers’ momentum.
Watson’s missed layup led to two made Haarms free throws and bitter taste in the mouth of Huskers fans. Down seven, Palmer sank two free throws. On the ensuing inbound, Harris poked the ball from Edwards to Palmer, but the refs saw otherwise and called a foul.
What was perhaps a must-win game for any tourney chances slipped away, and Miles knows it. Nebraska had their opportunities to take this game from a surging top-15 team, but couldn’t get it done. They had solid performances off the bench, Watson’s best game (25 points, 5-9 from three) of the season, but a dreadful Palmer game (2-12 shooting, 1-5 from three) sank the ‘Skers.
With three games remaining against ranked teams, there is still a sliver of hope, but they may need to win a game or two in Chicago to lock it down.
Final: Purdue 75, Nebraska 72