Purdue enters tonight's game against Nebraska as the most rested and ready team in the Big Ten.
The No. 7 Boilermakers have played just once in the last 10 days – a 74-67 win Saturday at Penn State – and have had the last five days off because a game against Michigan, scheduled for Wednesday, was postponed after a spate of coronavirus cases left the Wolverines without enough available players.
The break came at the right time for Purdue; center Trevion Williams had not been feeling well going into the Penn State game (he did not test positive for COVID), while Blackhawk Christian graduate Caleb Furst had been working his way back into game shape following his own bout of COVID.
The Boilermakers took a day off this week and spent the four other days drilling the basics of coach Matt Painter's system.
“We worked on the things we needed to work on, work on the fundamentals and got some rest,” Boilers guard Sasha Stefanovic said. “A lot of us were banged up here and there, so just getting some treatment. ... I think it really helped us, we had some good practices and then we'll hit it (today).
“It's just unfortunate those things happen, hopefully (the Wolverines) are OK, no one's feeling too sick,” the fifth-year senior guard added. “Going into games, you gotta expect you're gonna play and be ready and be prepared, but if those things happen, it is what it is.”
The Boilermakers (13-2, 2-2 Big Ten) finally return to the court tonight, when they take on Big Ten cellar-dweller Nebraska at Mackey Arena. The Cornhuskers are just 5-40 in conference play in three seasons under coach Fred Hoiberg but have pushed conference-title aspirants Ohio State and Illinois to the limit in recent weeks.
“They've been really competitive in a lot of their games,” Stefanovic said. “I think they're a great team, they've just struggled to win games.”
The Cornhuskers (6-11, 0-6 Big Ten) are led by five-star freshman Bryce McGowens, an athletic workhorse who plays 34 minutes per contest and scores 15.9 points per game but shoots only 39.4% from the field.
Wisconsin's Jonathan Davis torched the Boilermakers to the tune of 37 points in a Badgers win Jan. 3 and Penn State's Jalen Pickett followed with 21 points and 10 assists Saturday. McGowens presents a similar challenge.
“You just don't want him getting to the free throw line, getting layups or dunks, getting in a rhythm,” Painter said of containing the Husker star. “Just trying to make it tough on him and trying to make him earn it.”
As for the game against the Wolverines, Painter is hopeful it will be made up, but he knows that could create a schedule crunch later in the season, Purdue paying for its mid-season respite with a string of games in quick succession.
“Even though you can get the short end of a (schedule change), it's what you make out of it,” the 17th-year coach said. “It's like getting referees you maybe have had some past differences of opinions with: your focus can't be there. Human behavior will drift it there, but you can't let it be there.”
When: 6:30 p.m. today
Where: Mackey Arena, West Lafayette
Records: No. 7 Purdue (13-2, 2-2 Big Ten), Nebraska (6-11, 0-6)
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: 1380 AM, 100.9 FM