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January 12, 2014

Purdue saves best basketball for last vs. Nebraska

Purdue-Nebraska box score

During Purdue's 70-64 win over Nebraska Sunday afternoon in Mackey Arena, the lone highlight of the day may have been the final score.

"I always talk about how as a team, it's (about) effort and results," Coach Matt Painter said, "and I didn't like the results until the end. I thought we played our best basketball at the end of the game."

After never gaining a lead of more than two possessions until the final minute and trailing the Cornhuskers with less than seven minutes remaining, Purdue did in fact save its best for last, holding Nebraska scoreless over the span of six crunch-time minutes and closing on a 15-6 run.

"We stayed poised and had faith in each other," said senior Sterling Carter, one of the pivotal figures in Purdue's first Big Ten victory. "We didn't let being down three with six minutes to go rattle us or anything. We just kept coming and got the victory at the end of the game."

It wasn't easy, in part due to resilient Nebraska and in part due to the Boilermakers' own doing.

Three stretches in particular prevented them from ever generating cushion and winning more comfortably than they did.

First was a stretch to close the first half in which Purdue got an inside bucket from the previously struggling Jay Simpson, then threes from Simpson and Kendall Stephens.

It was the sort of offensive burst that might have changed the game had Purdue not given up easy - or at least relatively easy - baskets after each score.

Then came the second half stretch in which Purdue turned the ball five times in six trips. At the time, it had gone up six and threatened to again generate that elusive cushion. Its generosity with the basketball left it trailing just minutes later.

Then there was the foul-shooting to close the game; Ronnie Johnson, in an otherwise strong game, missed three out of four in the span of four game seconds around the one-minute mark, after also missing a pair at 5:12.

None of it ultimately affected the result, though, given Nebraska's inability to score from the 6:43 mark until just 44 seconds remained.

"As the game ended on that run," Painter said, "I thought we did a better job getting long rebounds and getting stops on the defensive end. That's so important, to be able to take care of the basketball, get stops and chase down long rebounds when it comes down to a possession game."

In those final minutes, Ronnie Johnson said, Purdue did its best job at keeping Nebraska leading scorer Terran Petteway (19 points) and guard Deverell Biggs (10) out of the lane, while also finishing off a 38-34 win on the glass.

"We fought hard, I thought, and that's what we need to do every game," Ronnie Johnson said. "We stayed composed. … We just need to keep doing that stuff and we'll get more wins."

A.J. Hammons led Purdue with 18 points and four blocked shots, including a crucial sequence with four-and-a-half minutes left where he swatted away a shot at one end, then took a post entry mid-Nebraska zone and scored to put the Boilermakers ahead 61-58.

Ronnie Johnson added 14 on 5-of-7 shooting, including four straight points that took Purdue from down three at 6:43 to up one 30 seconds later.

Carter gave Purdue eight points and a team-high seven rebounds. His three with 8:31 to play was a timely one after Nebraska had taken a lead and the Boilermakers had begun laboring, it seemed like.

Kendall Stephens chipped in eight also, like Carter, doing so on only four field goal attempts.

Simpson's breakout game was a welcomed sight, as he added seven points and truly impacted a game for the first time in many weeks.

"We've all been waiting for him to have this kind of game," Hammons said.

Purdue had also been waiting for this win and now hopes to add to it, with a trip to Illinois coming this week.

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