WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Do-overs don’t exist in sports, but Nebraska would have paid big money for someone to wave a wand and reset the first 10 minutes of Saturday’s 74-62 loss to No. 13 Purdue.
When you fall behind by 15 that early, then lose by 12, wondering “what if” with a different start is inevitable.
“We’d definitely like to replay it,” said NU guard James Palmer, who scored a game-high 22 points and had a team-high seven rebounds.
“They came out stronger than we did. They sustained it. Every time we looked up at the clock later in the game, they were still up 9 or 10. We just couldn’t bounce back from it, and that hurts.”
Nebraska, after falling behind 27-12 with 10:45 to go in the first half, cut the deficit to seven three times late in the first half. Purdue led 41-31 at halftime, then opened the second half missing 13 of its first 18 shots.
But the Huskers (11-6, 2-2) couldn’t get closer than nine because they missed 14 of their first 18 after halftime, blunting any upset hopes for the 201⁄2-point underdog.
“This was there for the taking,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said matter of factly. “Nebraska just didn’t make enough shots. They had to get us into a two- or three-possession game and never really got it there. It was always at a four- or five-possession game.
“When we struggled, they struggled. That’s what was tough for them. We were very fortunate that we played good defense during that stretch in the first part of the second half.”
Purdue, winning for the 11th straight time, started the game 9 of 12 from the field (75 percent), then shot 36.7 percent the rest of the way.
Coach Tim Miles noted with a shake of his head that Purdue — 16th in the country in scoring at 86.9 points a game — scored 31 points on the next 44 possessions after its hot start.
“But we’re nowhere closer than where we were,” he said. “We’re playing tremendous defense on a top-10 or -15 team on the road, and we don’t have anything to show for it in terms of being level.”
Holding what will be a top-10 team when Monday’s rankings come out to 0.7 points a possession over that long a stretch is how upsets are created. But not when shots don’t fall.
Palmer and Isaac Copeland combined to make 13 of 25 shots (52 percent), but the rest of the team was 9 of 29 (31 percent)
“We had some wide-open shots that we missed, and it’s guys that can make them,” Miles said, recalling four in the first half and three or four more in the second.
“You’re not going to make them all, but let’s make half of them and it’s a different ballgame. But that hot start killed us. And Purdue was ready. They were waiting on this thing.”
Yes, revenge was on the minds of the Boilermakers (15-2, 4-0).
Last year, they lost 83-80 in Lincoln, and some old film refreshed the memory of any players who forgot.
“When we started film the last two days,” Purdue center Isaac Haas said, “it showed them walking off the court and throwing the ball around after those guys beat us. That really hurt us.”
The Nebraska loss actually was a boon to Purdue’s season as the eventual Big Ten champions won 11 of the next 12 games after the unexpected setback.
“It helped us then,” Haas said. “But we knew we weren’t going to lose to these guys again, especially at home. We came in with the focus and mindset that we’ve gotta do what we’ve gotta do.”
Purdue’s hot start Saturday coincided with a blistering beginning from forward Vincent Edwards.
The 6-foot-8 senior hit Purdue’s first shot of the game and nailed four more in a row, racking 11 points in the first nine minutes and 17 in the first half.
Much of that came against Copeland, who like other Huskers was trying to help keep one eye on the 7-2 Haas inside.
“I started really slow, which is why Coach took me out early,” Copeland said. “I let No. 12 get off to a hot start, and that set the tone for the rest of the game. It’s a teaching point for me and my teammates.”
Yet Copeland bounced back to score 16 points — 10 came in the final 6:23 to keep Purdue from pulling away. And he was part of the later defensive surge that limited Haas to 14 points and six rebounds in 18 foul-plagued minutes.
Copeland said there is value in playing a ranked team close.
“But we see past everybody’s expectations for us,” he said. “We know we’re a very good team. We’re not satisfied with losing, but at the same time we take the positives from the comebacks.”