It wasn't that Nebraska quit. No, they kept fouling and calling time outs in the final minute despite being down about 20, much to the disdain of the basketball-savvy crowd in Mackey. And Doc Sadler brought his debonair (for Nebraska) style into Mackey and prettied the place up. But tonight the Boilers were just too much and it was fun to see.
They came out strong and never let up. The lead got into the mid-20s before shrinking back to 14 in the second half and I will admit for a few seconds I thought, "No, they can't let this one slip back to a close game....can they?" And I was right...they couldn't. They were just too good for the Huskers on this evening.
The Boilers spread the scoring among five guys who got into double figures, with Rob Hummel leading the charge as he played his second-to-last game at Mackey (how's that grab ya?) with a season-high 29 points on 56% shooting, to go along with 7 rebounds and a couple of blocks. Rob definitely seems to be feeling it right now and may have finally gotten his conditioning to where he needed it in recent weeks. That's a good thing, as is the resolve of a guy who won't be ready for his college basketball career to be over in a few weeks. Anyone else remember how hard Brian Cardinal played in his final games in 2000, pushing the Boilers nearly to a Final Four? I'm just saying.
|Addition by addition|
DJ Byrd made a triumphant return, pumping in 15 points on 5-8 shooting beyond the arc. He also had 4 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal. Not a bad 28 minutes off the bench. I'd say this guy is focused right now and maybe his suspension has made his determination to lead even more rock solid.
Anthony Johnson didn't shoot well, scoring only one point, but he did have 4 assists and 2 steals. TJohn, however, started the game and again seemed to feel comfortable out there, putting up 11 points on 5-7 shooting (though still just an abominable 25% from the line) with 5 rebs, 3 assists and a steal.
LewJack played a very nice game, as well, though I didn't feel as though I noticed him as much as I usually do. Maybe that sounds silly, but it felt "quiet," even though Lew put up a tidy 13 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds and a steal. Another guy we'll surely miss. And speaking of that, the third senior -- Ryne Smith -- also chipped in with 50% three-point shooting and 12 points.
Nobody got into any foul trouble to speak of, with the high foul counts for Purdue at....2. DJ Byrd played 28 minutes and didn't record a foul. The game just moved along as the two teams didn't play the kind of "Big Ten basketball" that narrow-minded media types like to imply is always played in the conference, but instead played an offensive-minded game that featured high-percentage shooting and quality passing. Imagine that.
In typical Matt Painter fashion, the bench is getting a lot shorter now as we head towards March. Matt tends to settle in on the guys he trusts in these moments, saddles 'em up and rides them to the finish. Just seven guys had double-figure minutes; nobody else had more than one minute of play. When you couple this tendancy of Coach Painter's with the loss of Kelsey Barlow, it's understandable why he would load up the minutes on these guys to see now if they can handle it. It's important to know who your horses are as you head towards single-elimination time.
While this recap is all-rosy, it's worth noting that Nebraska is just not a very good team. Bo Spencer has had a really nice season, but otherwise this is a patchwork team that is struggling in the basketball-serious Big Ten. It isn't the Big 12 anymore, where as long as you were okay with being pasted by Kansas twice a year you could still have a respectable season. And yet, they took down Clappy's Crew. So there's something (okay, a lot) to like about that.
The Boilers are now 18-10 (8-7), with three games to go. At Michigan, home vs PSU and at IU. Win two of those and you're guaranteed to be over .500 in the Big Ten and have another 20-win season. With the focus and comfort level I'm seeing out of these guys right now, I'm encouraged. I don't know if I'm ready to use the ol' cliche about them "peaking at the right time," but I'm definitely inching closer to it. Sure, this isn't the talent-laden group from last year or the year before, but it's a group that has been through quite a bit of adversity together. Does that bring a group together at the right time? It might.