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March 14, 2013

Big Ten Tournament: Nebraska

Terone Johnson from GoldandBlack.com on Vimeo.

Purdue's clicking on offense better than it has at any other point this season.

When it plays Nebraska at 6:30 p.m. tonight in the United Center in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, it will want to keep it up.

"We're just doing what we're supposed to do," leading scorer Terone Johnson said. "We're moving the ball a lot more and not being as stagnant. ... Just moving and actually running the motion offense is helping us out."

Nebraska won't make it easy.

The Cornhuskers are one of the worst offensive teams in the Big Ten, a team that averaged just 56.3 points in going 5-13 in the league. For that reason, the Cornhuskers will seek to control the game's tempo and keep it low-scoring.

"On defense they try to shove you around and be really physical," freshman Rapheal Davis said. "That's the kind of game I like, something I'm looking forward to."

The way the Boilermakers have been playing lately, coming off a season-best 89-point game against Minnesota, they will be hard to stop.

In the first meeting - Purdue's first trip to Lincoln as a Big Ten rival - the Boilermakers held the Cornhuskers to just 19 points in the first half and led by as many as 20 a few minutes into the second half. But Nebraska rallied to get as close as six before ultimately losing 65-56.

Nebraska's completing its second full season in the Big Ten, but has faced Purdue just three times, all Boilermaker wins. This is the second consecutive year in which Purdue drew Nebraska to open the league tournament, winning last season 79-61 in former coach Doc Sadler's final game.

Tim Miles has taken over and given Nebraska reason for enthusiasm. It was just a couple weeks ago the 'Huskers rallied back from a huge deficit at home to beat NCAA Tournament hopeful Iowa and just a week ago that it beat fellow NCAA hopeful Minnesota.

The way Purdue has played to close the regular season, though, is cause for enthusiasm around West Lafayette, but also a measure of regret.

"It's definitely a great thing that the light has come on right now because we have a lot of young guys and a lot of guys coming back next year," Terone Johnson said. "... And we can still make it into the NCAA Tournament. So that's really great, but it's also maddening in that we could have been a tournament team if we'd turned it around earlier."

Had they, this weekend's trip to Chicago might not be Purdue's only path to the NCAA Tournament - the automatic bid is Purdue's only hope - or even the NIT.

But it is.

What Purdue does have on its side now, however, is confidence.

"It's a big challenge," Davis said of winning the Big Ten Tournament, "but no challenge is impossible. I think we can do it and everyone around here thinks we can do it. We have a lot of confidence now."

Projected Lineups
G: Terone Johnson
G: Ronnie Johnson
F: D.J. Byrd
F: Rapheal Davis
C: A.J. Hammons

G/F: David Rivers (6-7, 191, So.)
G: Ray Gallegos (6-2, 181, Jr.)
G: Dylan Talley (6-5, 216, Sr.)
G/F: Shavon Shields (6-6, 214, Fr.)
F: Brandon Ubel (6-10, 234, Sr.)

The first time these two teams played, Nebraska didn't have its top big man, Ubel, who was out with an elbow injury. He's back, averaging 11.2 points and 6.7 boards. ... Talley leads Nebraska in scoring at 14.2 points. ... Shields, one of the better freshmen in the Big Ten this season however unheralded he may have been, put 18 on Purdue in the first meeting. He averaged eight points and five rebounds this season. ... gigantic center Andre Almeida gave Hammons some problems establishing position, but the 314-pounder (yeah, right) couldn't run with the Boilermaker 7-footer.

About Purdue: Roster | Schedule | Statistics

About Nebraska: Roster | Schedule | Statistics

Broadcast Info
Game time: 6:30 p.m. ET
Radio: Purdue Sports Network (95.7 FM locally)
Internet: GoldandBlack.com subscribers can follow along live with our in-game blog, "Game Day Live."

Things to think about

1. Can Purdue just keep it up, plain and simple? The Boilermakers closed the regular season looking like a team that could compete with anyone after looking like anything but so often this season.

2. The Boilermakers will need to keep up their outstanding rebounding from recent games, after it drilled Wisconsin and Michigan on the boards, then out-did Minnesota, the Big Ten leader in rebounding.

Purdue crushed Nebraska on the glass last time and is playing better now than it was then. But the 'Huskers will be a bit different with Ubel available this time.

3. How motivated is Purdue right now? That's not to say it might not be, but rather to suggest it could be especially so. The light has come on for Purdue and its players seem more confident and to be enjoying themselves more so than at any other point in the year. Coach Matt Painter seems rejuvenated after a taxing season and the coaching staff is clearly excited about this team heading into the postseason.

4. Purdue only played Nebraska once this season. If it can get past Nebraska, it will play Ohio State, which it also only played once. Those games were played in mid-January.

That might be interesting in that these teams might not know one another inside and out as is often the case in a conference tournament.

GoldandBlack.com Prediction: Nebraska will present some challenges, but Purdue is playing pretty good basketball right now and if it continues to do so should find itself matching up with the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Tournament yet again.

Purdue 75, Nebraska 63

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