Nebraska’s second-half rally comes up short against Boilermakers

Purdue's Ronnie Johnson, right, drives around Nebraska's Benny Parker with the help of a pick by Purdue's Travis Carroll in the first half Wednesday.

LINCOLN — In a word, unacceptable.

That was Nebraska basketball coach Tim Miles' assessment of Wednesday night's 65-56 loss to Purdue in front of 8,190 fans at the Devaney Center.

Even though it is a rebuilding year for NU hoops and injuries have hit and just seven scholarship players were available, falling behind by 20 points at home after just 24 minutes of play isn't going to fly with the first-year head man.

“That's why I called the last timeout,” Miles said. “I said, 'Look around. What do you see?' Empty seats and people heading to the exits.

“We're supposed to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. And I'm not interested in continuing this.”

Nebraska's two most productive players were a true freshman (wing Shavon Shields, who had 18 points and eight rebounds) and a sophomore walk-on (guard Jordan Tyrance, who had 10 points and seven rebounds.)

“When a true freshman is leading you and a walk-on is leading you, you've got a real problem on your hands,” Miles said. “God bless those guys. They were terrific. But we need more than that.”

The Huskers (9-9, 0-5) had shown promise in two road games last week, threatening No. 2 Michigan and No. 22 Michigan State into the final minutes before losing.

That's why Wednesday's lackluster effort doubled the disappointment for Miles.

“It's about mentality,” Miles said. “Every possession has got to matter, every game has got to matter. Tonight, I don't think we could show evidence that it did matter, until it was a 20-point deficit.”

Is Nebraska physically worn down?

“I don't care if they are tired,” Miles said. “They were supposed to have (Thursday) off. We're going to go so hard it's going to be amazing.”

How about mentally spent?

“We're definitely not going down that path,” Miles said. “We're so mentally weak right now that if we don't really tax them mentally, we're going to have some major issues.

“It's not just about winning and losing. It's about the way you compete. Purdue got anything they wanted. I don't care if they're mentally tired or down in the dumps or disappointed. Get over yourself.”

Miles' worries about Purdue's ability to interrupt the flow of a Husker offense that isn't real smooth to start with proved well founded.

By the time Purdue (9-8, 3-2) had increased a 28-19 halftime lead to 43-23 with 16:11 to go, Nebraska was shooting 26.3 percent (10 of 38).

“We don't have a real ball-in-hand guard who is going to create for others,” Miles said. “So if we're not moving — and they did a good job of switching screens to get us standing — now you're just going one-on-one and that's no fun to watch.”

The Huskers cranked up their defense to get back in the game, going to a smaller lineup and trapping on the perimeter. The strategy produced seven Purdue turnovers in six minutes, which helped NU close to five points at 51-46 with 6:03 to play.

But a Boilermaker team that starts three freshmen and plays two others regularly turned to a couple of veterans to restore order.

Senior wing D.J. Byrd hit back-to-back 3-pointers after the lead was cut to five. He finished with 12 points. Junior guard Terone Johnson added a 3-point play with 3:21 left to get the lead back to double digits at 60-50.

Johnson, Purdue's leading scorer at 13.1 a game, produced 18 points and six rebounds. A.J. Hammons, a 7-foot freshman center, had 14 points, eight rebounds and six blocks.

Boilermaker coach Matt Painter said a 15-4 run to start the second half was his team's key.

“Being able to get off to such a good start in the second half was really important to us,” he said. “Because when they made their run, we had such a significant lead that they couldn't get it down.”

The crazy statistic of the night was Nebraska setting a school record for fewest turnovers with two. The old mark was three on three occasions. NU outscored Purdue in points off turnovers 18-2, yet lost by nine.

Said Painter: “This is one of those box scores that doesn't make sense.”

But Miles had no trouble deciphering the issue bothering him.

“Here's what I can compare and contrast from the first and second halves,” he said. “A will to actually play and compete was evident the second half, at times. I didn't see any of that the first half.”

>> NOTES: Shields’ 18 points were a career high, topping his 14 vs. Jacksonville State. Tyrance’s points (10), rebounds (seven) and minutes (21) were all career highs for the Lincoln Southwest product. ... Nebraska’s next game is at noon Saturday at the Big Ten’s other winless team, Penn State (8-9, 0-5).

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