Lincoln – Nebraska fell behind by 21 points in the first half, but swung the lead 25 points to take a four-point lead over visiting Purdue with 4:30 left at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Wednesday night. However, the Boilermakers executed down the stretch and escaped with a 76-68 women’s basketball win over the Huskers.
With its first Big Ten home loss of the season, Nebraska slipped to 4-4 in the league and 14-5 overall, while Purdue matched the Huskers in the Big Ten standings at 4-4 and moved to 13-7 overall.
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Senior Nicea Eliely led four Huskers in double figures with 15 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals, while sophomore forward Ashtyn Veerbeek added 13 points and two steals of her own. Sophomores Sam Haiby and Leigha Brown each contributed 10 points for Nebraska, while Isabelle Bourne pitched in seven points and four boards off the bench.
Senior forward Ae’Rianna Harris led all scorers with 25 points on 10-of-12 shooting from the field and 5-of-6 free throws. She added nine rebounds, three blocks and two assists, including a key kickout on a three-pointer by Cassidy Hardin late in the fourth quarter for the Boilermakers that essentially sealed the win. Hardin finished with six points on two throws after starting in place of Kayana Traylor for Purdue.
Purdue senior Dominique Oden added 14 points – almost entirely on mid-range jumpshots – seven rebounds and five assists, while junior guard Karissa McLaughlin scored 19 points, including a trio of three-pointers, and six straight free throws in the final 1:15 to secure the win.
For the game, Purdue hit 47.5 percent (28-59) of its shots from the field, including 40 percent (8-20) of its three-pointers, and 85.7 percent (12-14) of its free throws. Purdue also won the rebounding battle, 40-31.
Nebraska hit 40 percent (24-60) of its shots, including 6-of-20 threes (.300), and 14-of-20 free throws (.700). The Huskers won the turnover battle, 16-14.
In a game that featured big runs and huge momentum swings, Purdue delivered the first blow with a 31-12 eruption in just over 10 minutes from the halfway point in the first quarter through midway through the second period.
Nebraska exchanged baskets early in the game, trailing Purdue 8-6 three minutes into the contest before Harris asserted herself. Harris, who came off the bench for the first time this season, scored six straight points on three shots inside in a 1:10 span to extend Purdue’s lead to 14-6, before Oden hit a pair of jumpshots to push the margin to 10 points for the first time at 18-8 with 2:45 left in the first quarter.
The Boilermakers extended the margin to 26-13 at the end of the first quarter after three-pointers by McLaughlin and Lyndsey Whilby to end the period. It was Nebraska’s most lopsided deficit in the first quarter this season, as Purdue hit 11-of-14 shots from the field, including all seven of its two-point attempts. The Boilers also went 4-for-7 from three-point range in the quarter.
Nebraska opened the second quarter with a three-point play from sophomore Leigha Brown to cut the margin to 10 and bring brief life to the Husker crowd, but Harris and the Boilermakers answered with a 13-2 surge over the next four-plus minutes to take a 39-18 lead with 5:21 left in the half. By that point, Harris was 6-for-6 from the floor and had 12 points.
The Huskers refused to quit and finally dug in on defense, holding the Boilermakers scoreless for the final 5:20 of the first half. Nebraska closed the half on an 11-0 run, including back-to-back three-pointers by Hannah Whitish and Kayla Mershon to cut the Purdue margin to 39-29 at the half.
Veerbeek helped the Huskers claw closer in the third quarter, scoring seven of NU’s first 10 points of the period to cut the Purdue margin to 47-39 with 4:45 left. The Boilers pushed their edge back to 13 after a Hardin three-pointer made it 54-41, but the Huskers again surged down the stretch in the period.
Brown hit a free throw before a three-point play by Eliely that included the third foul of the game on Harris, who reached out from behind and grabbed Eliely’s leg while she was in mid-air going to the rim for a layup in transition with no one in front of her. Eliely converted the free throw to trim Purdue lead back to single digits at 54-49. Veerbeek hit two more free throws and Brown added one before a Bourne putback just before the buzzer sent Nebraska to the fourth trailing just 54-50.
Brown scored four more points early in the fourth, including a basket to give Nebraska its first lead of the game at 58-56 with 5:42 left, capping a massive 17-2 surge over a seven-minute span in which the Huskers held the Boilermakers without a field goal. At that point, NU had outscored Purdue 40-17 in a 20-minute stretch.
After a Purdue timeout, McLaughlin hit a three-pointer to give the Boilers the lead again, before Eliely hit back-to-back buckets, including a three-pointer to give Nebraska its biggest lead at 63-59 with 4:28 left.
Then Nebraska hit a wall. Purdue executed offensively on five consecutive possessions, including a pair of jumpers by Oden and a pair of pick-and-roll scores in the paint for Harris, before Hardin delivered a knockout blow with a three-pointer with 1:35 left to extend Purdue’s lead to 70-63 with 1:35 left.
McLaughlin sealed the win with free throws down the stretch.
Nebraska returns to Big Ten road action on Saturday by traveling to Wisconsin. Tip-off between the Huskers and Badgers is set for 11 a.m. (CT)