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Nebraska looks to solve No. 3 Purdue’s defense

Jan 8, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Purdue Boilermakers center Zach Edey (15) celebrates after scoring against the Penn State Nittany Lions in the second half at The Palestra. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

No. 3 Purdue will play its first game since dropping from the top of the national rankings when it hosts Nebraska on Friday night in a Big Ten Conference game in West Lafayette, Ind.

The Boilermakers (15-1, 4-1) spent four weeks at No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 before losing at home to Rutgers on Jan. 2, but then rebounded with wins against Ohio State and Penn State. Down six at the half to the Nittany Lions on Sunday, Purdue started the second half on a 12-0 run and ended up winning by 13.

“We just had a great second half,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “We really showed some resiliency.”

Zach Edey had 30 points and 13 rebounds in the win over Penn State, helping him earn Big Ten Player of the Week honors for the fourth time. The 7-foot-4 junior leads the conference in scoring (21.9 points per game), rebounding (13.2) and field goal shooting (63.1 percent) and is a frontrunner for various national player of the year awards.

Edey’s defense has also been integral to Purdue holding teams to 39.7 percent shooting and 61.5 points per game, but Painter said that’s been a team effort.

“Our guys have done a really good job with their discipline, of just doing their job,” he said.

While Edey is the main focal point, Purdue also sports a pair of talented young guards in Fletcher Loyer and Braden Smith. Loyer is averaging 12.4 points per game (16.0 in Big Ten competition) and Smith leads the Boilermakers in assists and steals.

Nebraska (9-8, 2-4) enters the matchup off a 76-50 home loss Tuesday to Illinois. The Cornhuskers shot 37.0 percent, committed 17 turnovers and were outrebounded 41-33.

Starting forward Juwan Gary suffered a shoulder injury late in the first half and his status for Friday’s game is uncertain.

As poor as that performance was, there’s reason for hope in the near future. Some of Nebraska’s best games have come after losses, such as convincing November wins over Florida State and Boston College after tough setbacks to Oklahoma and Memphis. Its most recent win, on Saturday in overtime at Minnesota, came four days after losing by 18 at Michigan State.

“For whatever reason after losses we’re bouncing back with good effort,” Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg said. “After wins we’re just not handling it right for whatever reason. It is frustrating. If we want to have a chance to play in the postseason, you have to string them together.”

Purdue has won the last three meetings with Nebraska, but the Cornhuskers nearly took out the Boilermakers last month in what ended up being a 65-62 overtime result. That was in Lincoln, though, while Nebraska has never won at Mackey Arena, where Purdue had won 15 in a row at home before the Rutgers loss.

“We’re going into the best team in the league’s gym, which is the hardest place to play in our league, and hopefully we’ll respond well,” Hoiberg said.

If Gary can’t go for Nebraska, either junior Keisei Tominaga or freshman Denim Dawson would likely start.

–Field Level Media