Sunday's game at Purdue can be summarized in a way Nebraska has heard all too often over the course of this season.
While the Huskers played well enough to win, a prolonged scoring drought and some costly mistakes down the stretch proved too much to over come, as they dropped to 0-4 in Big Ten Conference play and saw their current losing streak extend to five in a row after a 70-64 defeat to the Boilermakers.
In a game that never saw a lead reach double digits either way, Nebraska (8-8 overall, 0-4 Big Ten) made just one field goal in the final seven minutes and scored just seven points total during that stretch. While Purdue (11-5, 1-2) certainly didn't play its best game of the year, it closed the day on a 15-6 run to pick up its first league victory.
"We played a pretty good high school game," NU head coach Tim Miles said during his post-game radio interview on the Husker Sports Network. "We had 33, 34 minutes of good basketball. Our defense wasn't bad in the second half… But we just didn't execute anything well in the half court, and that comes down to concentration."
Both teams were slow out of the gates offensively to start the game, but the scoring definitely heated up as the first half went on. A 3-pointer by senior guard Ray Gallegos gave the Huskers a 14-13 lead with 11 minutes left, but that would be their last lead of the half as Purdue quickly went back on top and led by as many as five points.
Nebraska wouldn't go away, though, as it countered two Boilermaker 3-pointers in the final two minutes by making five of its final six shots from the field, including a layup by Gallegos with 48 seconds left that sent the game into halftime with Purdue only holding a 35-32 advantage. The Huskers shot 43 percent from the field in the first half, with Gallegos scoring all 10 of his points in the first 20 minutes. However, four 3-pointers by Purdue kept the Boilermakers on top for the bulk of the half.
Purdue got things going right away to start the second half and quickly took its biggest lead yet on a basket by center A.J. Hammons that made it 44-38 with 16:22 to play. The Huskers were able to answer soon after, though, as they put together a 9-2 run and took their first lead since the 14:27 mark in the first half at 51-50 on a pair of free throws by junior guard Deverell Biggs with just over 10 minutes remaining.
A free throw by sophomore wing Terran Petteway pushed NU's lead up to 58-55 with 6:43 to go, but that would be the Huskers' last point for the next six minutes. The scoring drought let Purdue put up nine unanswered points, as the Boilermakers knocked down their free throws in the final minute to put the game away for good. Nebraska shot just 40 percent in the second half compared to 61.1 percent by Purdue.
"It was just bad shots, just rushed shots, and that's a composure thing that this team needs to learn to play well" Miles said. "It was too bad, because we did more than enough things well to win a ball game, but just not come down and have the composure and the concentration to do it was the disappointing part."
Petteway once again led Nebraska with 19 points and nine rebounds, while Biggs both added 10 points. Hammons had a team-high 18 points for Purdue, while guard Ronnie Johnson followed up with 14.
The Huskers will get a much-needed break this week, as they don't return to action again until Monday, Jan. 20, when Ohio State comes to town for a 6 p.m. CT tip on the Big Ten Network. Despite not winning a game in more than three full weeks, Miles said he wasn't concerned about his team's confidence to finally get that elusive first Big Ten victory.
"I'm not worried about it," Miles said. "I'm not worried about a crisis of confidence that way. Certainly you get down and you get frustrated, but what I hope is they're gaining an understanding of exactly the effort it takes mentally and physically over and over and over again to be successful and to win. It's very demanding to win in the Big Ten, on the road or at home.
"There's great competition and great coaches, and so any small mistake really can make you pay. Any series of errors like we saw with a couple turnovers in a row, a couple bad shots … you're not going to survive that."