Defense-focused Purdue looking for conference win
By Michael Osipoff email@example.com or 713-2485 January 11, 2014 11:42PM
Updated: February 13, 2014 7:02AM
A must-win game at this stage of the season? Debatable.
But without question, Purdue can ill-afford a loss against Nebraska on Sunday at Mackey Arena — a game against an improved opponent, but one it should be able to win, especially at home. And there has been a sense of urgency for the Boilermakers, who have gone a week between games and have played just three in the last 21 days.
“If you don’t come out focused and ready to play (in practice), you’re right on the line running,” sophomore swingman Rapheal Davis. “Coach isn’t playing with us this week; he knows we need to come out focused from the very jump. … He wants everybody to be locked in, locked and loaded ready for Sunday.”
Particularly on the defensive end.
Purdue (10-5, 0-2 Big Ten) has allowed 71.3 points per game, 11th in the conference, ahead of only Penn State (73.4) going into the weekend. Opponents are shooting 41.3 percent (eighth) from the field against the Boilermakers, and 33.0 percent (ninth) from 3-point range.
In deference to the team’s issues containing the dribble and the rules changes, coach Matt Painter said Purdue has “backed up” its pressure and adjusted its ball-screen defense. Too often, though, the Boilermakers still find themselves out of position, and playing with their hands instead of moving their feet.
“We’ve really struggled defensively,” Painter said. “For us, it’s just working on being more fundamentally sound, carrying out our assignments.
“It starts with your preparation and your mindset. A lot of people in our league are going to guard things differently, and when they do, you have to do what the coach says, you have to follow the scouting report. When we do those things, we have success; when we’re not consistent or we don’t hang our hat on the details, we struggle.”
The Cornhuskers (8-7, 0-3) — also seeking their first Big Ten win of the season, coming off a 71-70 loss to Michigan on Thursday — average 69.7 points, 11th in the conference, but have the ability to test Purdue in that area.
Under colorful second-year coach Tim Miles, they typically have started three newcomers in sophomore forward Terran Petteway (team-high 17.2 points and 5.1 rebounds, sitting out last season after transferring from Texas Tech), 6-foot-10 sophomore forward Walter Pitchford (8.6 and 4.7, sitting out last season after transferring from Florida) and Tai Webster, a freshman guard from New Zealand; and two more figure prominently off the bench in 6-8 junior forward Leslee Smith (7.9 points and team-high 6.5 rebounds, transferring from Seward County Community College after beginning his career at SMU) and junior guard Deverell Biggs (9.9 points, sitting out last season after transferring from Seward). They also returned sophomore swingman Shavon Shields (11.3 points and 5.0 rebounds), who averaged 18.5 points in two games against Purdue last season, and senior guard Ray Gallegos (8.2).
“They have a lot of weapons that can score, they have a lot of versatile guys,” Painter said. “That’s what really concerns me, is their ability to go make plays, their ability to make shots. You can’t let them have clean looks, you can’t let them have angles. When they do, they have a lot of success.
“Tim’s done a great job. Any time you have a lot of new faces, it’s hard to piece it together.”
Purdue won the first three games between the teams after Nebraska joined the Big Ten, including 65-56 in Lincoln last season on Jan. 16, before losing 57-55 in the first round of the conference tournament. The Cornhuskers have gone 0-4 on the road this season, and the Boilermakers have not started conference play 0-3 since 2005-06, Painter’s first season.
“We just have to keep trying to get wins, and going to the next game thinking about wins,” senior guard Terone Johnson said.