WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Lexi Sun had her shots working and her serve beguiling. Then, to cap Nebraska’s fifth straight win, she turned back two straight shots from a player who previously had been all but unstoppable.
No. 6 Nebraska’s offense spent long stretches Friday night trying to eke out a passing grade, but NU’s serving and defense pulled the Huskers to a 25-22, 25-20, 22-25, 25-17 win at No. 12 Purdue.
Sun’s team-high 13 kills and 11 digs gave the sophomore outside hitter her ninth double-double of the season, and she added three of Nebraska’s season high-tying 11 aces on the night before a crowd of 2,415 fans at Holloway Gym.
“I thought our serving really broke them down,” Nebraska coach John Cook said in a postmatch radio interview.
Nowhere was the difference between Nebraska (21-6, 12-5 Big Ten) and Purdue (21-7, 10-7) greater than at the service line. The Huskers committed only five serving errors, while the Boilermakers misfired 11 times while recording just one ace in their sixth consecutive loss to the Huskers.
NU’s serving pressure kept Purdue out of system just enough to withstand a barrage from the Boilermakers’ 1-2 punch of Sherridan Atkinson and Blake Mohler. Atkinson, the Boilermakers’ 6-foot-5 senior opposite hitter, had a match-high 20 kills on 58 attacks, while middle blocker Mohler had 13 kills and hit .435.
After a slow start defensively — NU won the first set despite being outhit .265-.226 — the Huskers had 67 digs to Purdue’s 60 with senior libero Kenzie Maloney getting a team-high 20.
“It’s hard to stop Mohler and it’s hard to stop Atkinson when they’re in system,” Cook said. “We were having a heck of a time. We couldn’t even touch them.
“(In the first set) they were just getting easy kills. Our floor defense wasn’t doing anything. I can’t stand it when that’s happening because I’m not used to that. I’m used to us putting pressure on teams with our serve, our block and our defense.”
The defense had steadied by the fourth set when the Huskers pulled away at the halfway mark. After Sun’s kill gave Nebraska a 14-9 lead, the Texas transfer teamed up with freshman Callie Schwarzenbach to block Atkinson. On the next rally, Sun’s solo block of an Atkinson swing gave her a hand in the first three points of a 9-2 run to salt the match away.
The Huskers hit .209 for the match, but were opportunistic with their scoring chances on a night when a balanced scoring effort offset a relatively quiet showing from All-America outside hitter Mikaela Foecke. The senior hit .158 on a team-high 38 swings, but made her presence felt with four of her 10 kills coming in the fourth set to go with 11 digs.
“She just was a little off,” Cook said. “They were serving her a lot tonight. But she worked through it. She had a couple great kills there in Game 4, especially when we needed them.”
The Husker middles provided a lift with Lauren Stivrins adding 10 kills and Schwarzenbach chipping in eight. Each came up with four blocks.
Freshman setter Nicklin Hames showed some attacking flashes of her own with three kills to go with 45 assists and 13 digs.
“We passed a lot of balls tight and she dealt with it pretty good,” Cook said. “We’ve been working on that. She’s a fighter. I thought she did a nice job setting tonight and making good choices, running different things and mixing it up. If you look at our stats, we had three people in double digits, Jazz (Sweet) had seven, Callie had eight kills. So that’s pretty hard to defend.”
Nebraska put itself in position to win its second consecutive road match against a top 15 opponent after pulling away late in the first two sets. After trailing 19-18 in the first set, the Huskers reeled off the next six points that included kills by Sun and Sweet and a Hames ace.
In the second, another 6-0 run erased Purdue’s 18-17 lead, with Maloney’s ace giving NU a 23-18 cushion.
“I think the best thing we did tonight, in the games we won, we made a really strong push at the end,” Cook said. “It was close, 18-18, 19-19, and then we’d go on a run. That’s what we’ve been working on, and they did a really good job of it.”
The win moved Nebraska into a three-way tie for third in the Big Ten standings with Penn State and Wisconsin going into Saturday’s 6 p.m. match at Indiana (16-12, 7-10), which is making a late push for NCAA tournament consideration.
The Hoosiers held off Iowa in five sets on Friday night behind a monster night from freshman outside hitter Breana Edwards, who had 23 kills and one error to hit .512.
Nebraska (21-6, 12-5)………..25 25 22 25
At Purdue (22-6, 10-7)……….22 20 25 17
NU (kills-aces-blocks): Sun 13-3-2, Foecke 10-2-2, Stivrins 10-1-4, Schwarzenbach 8-0-4, Sweet 7-0-2, Davis 4-0-0, Hames 3-3-0, Maloney 0-2-0.
PU: Atkinson 20-0-2, Mohler 13-0-4, Cleveland 8-0-7, Newton 7-0-0, Johnson 2-0-2, Cuttino 1-0-3, Hornung 1-1-0, Williams 0-0-1
Set assists: N 53 (Hames 45, Maloney 6, Sun 1, Foecke 1), P 48 (Bush 45, Hornung 2, Bush 1). A: 2,415