Nebraska basketball builds steam in time to face hot Boilermakers

LINCOLN — You could justifiably argue that No. 13 Purdue, which hosts Nebraska on Saturday, is playing as well as any men’s basketball team in the country.

The Boilermakers (14-2, 3-0) have won 10 straight games since back-to-back losses by three and four points over Thanksgiving. The past three victories have been by 30 or more points, which is a first at the school that has won more Big Ten titles than any other.

Purdue is in the top 25 nationally in scoring, assists, 3-point shooting, field-goal shooting, field-goal defense, defensive rebounding and blocked shots.

“This is a special team we’re facing,’’ Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. “Looking at the stats, they are dominant in almost every category.

“These guys can do it all. They are dominant in the paint, offensively and defensively. They can make 3s and defend 3s, block shots and go get rebounds. There is no apparent weakness in their game.’’

Yet to Nebraska (11-5, 2-1), such details aren’t worth giving up sleep.

The Huskers have steadily accumulated confidence and swagger by beating Minnesota, taking Creighton and Kansas into the final minute, and then reopening Big Ten play Tuesday night with a 15-point victory at Northwestern.

“One thing about our guys, there’s some blissful ignorance about us,’’ Miles said. “Regardless of what we’re up against, we’re ready to compete.

“We got a good shot of confidence from winning at Northwestern. But this is really a tough matchup for us.’’

The toughest will be inside, where Purdue coach Matt Painter has begun to play 7-foot-2, 299-pound Isaac Haas and 7-3, 250-pound Matt Haarms at the same time instead of rotating in for each other.

Nebraska has struggled so much inside this season that two-year walk-on Tanner Borchardt — just placed on scholarship at the semester break — has taken minutes from scholarship centers Jordy Tshimanga and Duby Okeke.

“The way our centers foul, I’m sure we’ll have to play all four of them,’’ Miles said, including 6-8 forward Isaiah Roby in certain lineups.

The Huskers often have been at maximum production with Roby at center, Isaac Copeland at power forward, James Palmer at small forward, Anton Gill at off guard and Glynn Watson at point guard.

An admiring Northwestern coach Chris Collins called it Nebraska’s “death lineup.’’

But Roby’s foul trouble has limited use of that grouping. Film study shows Roby tends to foul when making a defensive positioning mistake.

“He ends up reaching in because he has such good length, and tries to make up for his mistake by tapping the ball out,’’ Miles said. “But you can’t reach. They call that regularly.

“So it will take some discipline from Isaiah to stop the silly fouls that come from reaching or holding. That’s what keeps him off the floor.’’

Whatever the lineup Saturday, all had better be on point.

Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Indiana, will have its usual 14,000-plus fans with a noisy and busy student section. Purdue has won 17 straight home games overall. It has won nine in a row over Big Ten opponents, including the past eight by double digits.

“When you play Purdue, you have to decide on a game plan, a change-up and a desperation idea,’’ Miles said, “and then try to avoid the last element — especially at their place.’’


» Nebraska upset Purdue last year 83-80 in Lincoln, getting 39 points off the bench with big games from Jack McVeigh (21 points) and Jeriah Horne (16). Purdue center Isaac Haas played 13 minutes before suffering a hip pointer.

» NU’s assist-to-turnover ratio — 1.32-to-1 — is on pace to be its best in 20 years.

» Four Huskers average double figures in scoring, eight have had at least one double-figure game and four have had a 20-point game.

» Purdue has blocked 62 more shots and committed 28 fewer turnovers than its opponents.

Nebraska at Purdue

When: 1:15 p.m. Saturday

Where: Mackey Arena, West Lafayette, Ind.

Radio: 1600 AM, 105.5 FM

Nebraska (11-5, 2-1)

C, Jordy Tshimanga, 6-11, So., 3.4

F, Isaac Copeland, 6-9, Jr., 12.1

G, James Palmer, 6-6, Jr., 15.3

G, Evan Taylor, 6-5, Sr., 8.3

G, Glynn Watson, 6-0, Jr., 12.4

Purdue (14-2, 3-0)

C, Isaac Haas, 7-2, Sr., 14.8

F, Vincent Edwards, 6-8, Sr., 13.6

G, Dakota Mathias, 6-4, Sr., 13.4

G, P.J. Thompson, 5-10, Sr., 9.1

G, Carsen Edwards, 6-1, So., 17.4

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