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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, February 09, 2019 1:00 am

Boilers prepare for best effort from Huskers

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Purdue vs. Nebraska

Where: Mackey Arena, West Lafayette

When: 8:30 p.m. today

Records: Purdue (16-6, 9-2), Nebraska (13-10, 3-9)

TV: Big Ten Network

Radio: 1380 AM

Exactly one month ago, on the morning of Jan. 9, Purdue woke up with a middling 9-6 record following a 77-59 loss to No. 6 Michigan State. The next day, Nebraska dispatched Penn State to improve to 12-4. Later in the week, the Cornhuskers beat up on Indiana in Assembly Hall and were knocking on the door of the Top 25.

Since then, the teams have gone in opposite directions at a rapid pace. The Boilermakers have won seven games in a row and leaped to No. 15 in the AP poll, while Nebraska has lost its last six, and coach Tim Miles said he hoped the team had hit “rock bottom” after its latest loss, 60-45 to Maryland on Wednesday.

Those diverging teams will meet at Mackey Arena tonight, as the Boilermakers look to match Michigan atop the Big Ten standings and remain undefeated at home. 

Purdue (16-6, 9-2 Big Ten) will welcome a Nebraska team that is reeling not only from its losing streak but also the loss of senior forward Isaac Copeland. The 6-foot-9 Copeland, who was second on the team in scoring and rebounding, is out for the season after suffering a knee injury against Ohio State on Jan. 26.

The loss of their senior leader has robbed Nebraska of scoring punch when the Cornhuskers (13-10, 3-9) were already struggling offensively. Nebraska has not scored 70 points since Jan. 10 and are averaging 53.3 points in the three games since Copeland left the lineup.

“Nobody is really having fun right now,” forward Isaiah Roby told the Omaha World-Herald. “We all had really big expectations for this season and we know that time just keeps running out and keeps running out.”

Despite Nebraska's recent struggles, Purdue is prepared to face a desperate team that will push the Boilermakers for 40 minutes. The Boilermakers are preparing as if they'll see the Nebraska team that won 13 of its first 17 games.

“They have some guys struggling to shoot that are good shooters, that are good scorers,” coach Matt Painter said. “These guys are proven players in our league that have hit a rough patch. As a coach, the one thing you try to get across to your team is you prepare for your opponents' best effort and their best production.”

Among those struggling for the Cornhuskers are their two top-scoring guards: James Palmer Jr. and Glynn Watson Jr. Neither of them is known as a sharpshooter, but they went a dismal 2 for 23 against Maryland and are hitting just 21 percent combined in the last three games.

Despite offensive struggles, Nebraska has maintained its defensive intensity, potentially setting up a low-scoring affair against Purdue. The Cornhuskers are 17th in the country in opponent field goal percentage at 39.6 percent. It will be a fresh challenge for a Boilermakers team that has been rolling.

On Friday, Miles made it clear his team will do everything it can to try to keep Carsen Edwards, the Big Ten's leading scorer at 24.5 points per game, from beating the Cornhuskers.

“Carsen's a nightmare,” Miles said. “You can do everything right and he still scores, so you just have to realize, make it hard for him. Make it as hard as you can for him.”

Earlier in the season, taking away Edwards might have spelled trouble for the Boilers, but recently the team's offense has been much more balanced, with players up and down the roster contributing.

Center Matt Haarms especially has emerged as a threat, scoring in double figures in three of the last five games and flashing an improved jump shot from as far as 17 feet.

dsinn@jg.net