With one last chance to keep its post-season hopes alive and more than likely save head coach Doc Sadler's job, Nebraska officially ended the 2011-12 season with a 79-61 loss to Purdue in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday.
As has been the case more often than not, the No. 11-seed Huskers (12-18 overall, 4-14 Big Ten) once again fell victim to extended scoring droughts that allowed No. 6-seed Purdue (21-11, 10-8) take a commanding lead in the first half and only continue to pour it on down the stretch.
Senior point guard Bo Spencer scored a game-high 22 points, but it wasn't nearly enough to keep the Boilermakers, who led by as many as 20 late in the second half, from handing NU an 18-point defeat.
The most telling stat of the night were 3-pointers, as Purdue shot 52 percent as a team from beyond the arc (13-of-25) and the Huskers were just 29.6 percent (8-of-29).
The loss was Nebraska's fifth in a row and eighth in its final 10 games.
"We finished the first half pretty strong and kept the ballgame down under 10 and started the second half going inside and got some easy baskets," head coach Doc Sadler said. "(We) cut the lead and didn't - the whole night defensively they just kept us completely - they kept us completely off balance."
Nebraska came out with some fire to start the game, out-hustling Purdue on both ends of the floor and jumping out to an early 12-8 lead after two straight baskets by Spencer.
Then, for whatever reason, the Huskers simply fell apart. A 3-pointer by senior forward Robbie Hummel sparked a 17-0 run by Purdue in which Nebraska didn't score a point for nearly eight full minutes.
After trailing 29-17 with 3:24 to go in the half, the Huskers were able to cut the deficit down to eight a minute later on an impressive one-handed dunk by junior guard Dylan Talley with 1:55 left.
Purdue pushed its lead back up to 12 after back-to-back 3s by guard Ryne Smith, but Nebraska answered with a pair of treys of its own in the final minute of the half from Spencer and senior guard Toney McCray to make it a 39-31 game going into halftime.
Spencer scored 14 of his 22 points in the first half, but Purdue was 7-of-13 from beyond the arc as a team, with Smith hitting 3-of-4.
"I thought starting the basketball game, I was really pleased with our effort, and I thought our guys played really hard and the game was going along there," Sadler said. "And there's about a six- or seven-minute span there in the first half that we didn't get the ball inside and we got them in the foul trouble a little bit to where we could go with the bonus, but we didn't take advantage of it as much as we needed to.
The Huskers came out hot again for the first minute of the second half and quickly cut Purdue's lead to 39-34. Once again, however, that momentum quickly faded, as the Boilermakers answered right back with a 12-5 run and pushed their lead back up to 11 with 16 minutes remaining.
Purdue only kept rolling from there, eventually taking its biggest lead to that point at 67-48 with 8:23 to go with the help of a 17-2 run that saw the Boilermakers hit four 3-pointers and an And-1 all in a row.
The lead eventually grew to 20 after Smith, who finished with 15 points, nailed his fifth 3-pointer of the night to make it 74-54 with 4:18 left to play.
McCray finished with 13 points and eight rebounds for Nebraska, and Talley chipped in 10 points. Anthony Johnson led the Purdue with 17 points, while Terone Johnson had 16 and Hummel added 10.
The Boilermakers shot 56 percent from the field as a team to the Huskers' 41.5 percent, including hitting 16-of-27 shots (59.3 percent) in the second half.
Purdue advances to play No. 3-seed Ohio State in the second round on Friday, while Nebraska comes back to Lincoln with some huge questions surrounding the future of its program.
It's been projected for some time now that unless the Huskers were to make a magical run through the Big Ten Tournament and earn an NCAA Tournament bid, Sadler would likely be let go after six seasons at Nebraska.
With those hopes officially gone, the Huskers and their fans will be anxiously waiting to see what NU athletic director Tom Osborne has to say on the matter in the coming days.
"It's been a tough season, especially not playing with (Jorge Brian) Diaz and Andre Almeida due to injuries," senior guard Brandon Richardson said. "But we didn't never use that as an excuse. We went out there and we competed and we gave it all we got. And we came up short for the most part, but I'm proud of our guys. They stuck in there. We fought to the end. And I couldn't be prouder of our guys."
Around the rim
***Nebraska falls to 2-8 all-time against Purdue and has lost the last four meetings with the Boilermakers.
***The Huskers fall to 16-35 all-time in conference tournaments dating back to the Big Eight Conference.
***The Huskers wore throwback jerseys honoring the 1949-50 team that went 16-7 and shared the Big Seven regular season title, NU's last regular-season conference title.
***Spencer picked up his ninth 20-point game of the season. It is the second time this season Spencer has had consecutive 20-point games (also USC and Rhode Island in November). He now has 23 career 20-point games.
***Nebraska had made 20 consecutive free throws over the last two games until Caleb Walker's miss in the second half.
***Purdue's 17-0 run is the largest run by a Husker opponent this year. The previous high was 13 done on four previous occasions, most recently at Minnesota on March 3.
***Nebraska finished the year with 194 3-pointers, tying for seventh in school history.
***Nebraska went 9-for-10 from the free throw line against Purdue and finished the year with a school record .767 percentage (335-437), breaking the mark of .765 set in 1967-68. The Huskers shot 91 percent in the final five games of the season.