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Huskers fall short again in 75-72 loss to No. 15 Purdue

Nebraska went blow-for-blow with No. 15 Purdue on Saturday, but could make enough winning plays down the stretch in a 75-72 loss.
Nebraska went blow-for-blow with No. 15 Purdue on Saturday, but could make enough winning plays down the stretch in a 75-72 loss. (Associated Press)

After its most uninspired effort of the season four days earlier, Nebraska gave No. 15 Purdue all it could handle for a full 40 minutes.

Unfortunately for the Huskers, that still wasn’t enough to finish off the upset in what ended as a 75-72 defeat on Saturday.

Glynn Watson scored a season-high 25 points and James Palmer Jr. finished with 15 points and a season-high eight assists for NU (15-13 overall, 5-12 Big Ten Conference). But that wasn’t enough to keep up with seven Purdue players scoring seven or more points and a 48-30 disadvantage on the boards, including 19-9 on the offensive glass.

Matt Haarms led the way with 17 points for the Boilermakers (20-7, 13-3), who shot just 29 percent from the field in the second half but made up for it by hitting 18-of-21 free throws after halftime, with 11 of those makes coming in the final 1:08.

“Today is disappointing in its own way, but obviously I’m proud of our guys,” head coach Tim Miles said of Saturday’s loss compared to the defeat at Penn State. “I thought they were just a couple plays away from winning… It just doesn’t take much. Your margin of error is not great.”

Watson hit four of his first five shots, including his first three 3-pointers, and scored 11 of Nebraska’s first 14 points to help jump out to an early four-point lead. A team that was shooting just 30.7 percent from behind the arc in Big Ten play coming in, NU made five of its first seven threes to start the game and led 19-16 after eight minutes of play.

Purdue quickly countered with an 8-0 run in a span of just 40 seconds, but Nebraska came right back with an eight-point rally of its own to reclaim the lead at 27-24 on a layup by Nana Akenten. Five straight points by Palmer kept NU up by one with 53 seconds left in the half, but a 3-pointer by Carsen Edwards with just two seconds to go sent Purdue into halftime with a 38-36 lead.

Despite trailing at the break, it was a solid first 20 minutes for the Huskers. They shot 41.9 percent from the field, went 6-of-12 from downtown, and scored 10 second-chance points off of five offensive rebounds. The six made 3-pointers in the first half were as many as Nebraska had in 11 other games this season, and Watson’s 15 first-half points matched or surpassed his point totals in 19 other games this year.

“Just playing hard,” Watson said of his 25-point effort. “Just playing within the offense.”

Nebraska again fell behind by as much as six on an And-1 by Haarms four minutes into the second half, but it was able to stay within arm’s reach and eventually cut the deficit to 54-51 on a layup by Akenten with 9:31 left.

A 3-pointer by Watson and two free throws by Palmer got it down to two four minutes later, and an And-1 by Tanner Borchardt pulled the Huskers within 62-61 with 2:53 remaining.

But Grady Eifert, who was averaging just 5.1 points per game, scored four of his nine points on two straight critical possessions to make it a two-score game again with just over a minute to play. Four free throws by Haarms and Edwards gave Purdue its biggest lead of the day at 70-63 with just 40 seconds on the clock.

Two more Palmer free throws trimmed the deficit to four, but Ryan Cline answered with two of his own with 21.7 to play. That would be enough for the Boilermakers to hold on for the win, as they ended up going 23-for-26 from the charity stripe on the day.

“I look at it overall and I’m like, did we follow the game plan? Yes," Miles said. "I thought we did a good job harassing their perimeter guys. We did a very good job on Carsen Edwards; his efficiency was not great. You know that when you’ve committed two to the ball on all those DHOs (dribble handoffs) that you might be weak rebounding. We knew we were going to play Haarms and (Trevion) Williams straight up in the post.

“So you put yourself in a position (to win) and it comes down to a couple extra-effort plays or whatever it might be. That’s why Purdue’s Purdue.”

Isaiah Roby had seven points and six rebounds while dealing with early foul trouble, while Borchardt added six points and seven boards. Freshman Amir Harris chipped in a career-high six points, two rebounds, and a block in 12 minutes off the bench.

Nebraska will return to action on Thursday when it travels to take on No. 7 Michigan for a 6 p.m. tip on ESPN.

3-POINT PLAY

1. Watson brought it, but he didn’t get enough help

Watson’s best scoring game of the season was one of the few positives for Nebraska in an otherwise disappointing loss, especially given the struggles he’d been going through for the past month. The senior point guard scored 15 of the Huskers’ first 23 points to start the game, and his 25 points topped the 20 he scored in a win over Western Illinois back in November for his highest total of the year. His five made 3-pointers also tied his season-high set in the first game of the year against Mississippi Valley State. The problem was there just wasn’t enough support around him. Palmer had 15 points and eight assists, but he shot just 2-of-12 from the field. Roby, who had averaged 14.1 points over the previous seven games, was held to seven points on just three made field goals. Nebraska just doesn’t have the firepower to allow for any of those three to not be at their best, let alone two of them.

2. Nebraska did what it needed to vs. Edwards

What was as frustrating as anything for Nebraska was that it actually played great defense against Edwards, Purdue’s best player and the Big Ten’s leading scorer. The junior guard, who came in averaging 23.9 points per game, only ended up with 13 points on 3-of-16 shooting (1-of-10 from 3-point range) with five turnovers. On top of that, NU held the Boilermakers - which came in shooting 36.5 percent from behind the arc and leading the Big Ten with 10 made threes per game - to shoot just 6-of-26 from 3-point range. That type of defensive effort was the only way the Huskers were going to have a chance to pull off the upset, but they just didn’t do enough to supplement that in other key areas, most notably rebounding. Purdue got far too many crucial plays down the stretch, particularly on the offensive glass and at the free-throw line.

3. If nothing else, at least there was fight

Nebraska couldn’t have looked much worse than it did Tuesday night at Penn State, especially with its total lack of effort and interest on the defensive end of the floor. The Huskers, to their credit, were much more dialed in despite the final outcome still being the same. It just makes you wonder how different these past two months might have been if NU had been able to maintain a level of effort and execution anywhere close to what it showed vs. Purdue. Miles noted after the game that even the communication in the huddles during timeouts was vastly improved and felt more like it was back when NU was rolling through the first two months of the season. The final score still ended up in a loss, and it served as one step closer to an ugly end to the season. But there were many who thought the fight the Huskers showed today had been lost completely, and at least on Saturday, they proved they still had some left.

THEY SAID IT

"The what-could-have-beens on this season, you could write a never-ending book."
— Head coach Tim Miles on another disappointing loss.