Clutch free throw shooting by center A.J. Hammons and guard Sterling Carter, combined with solid late-game defense, were enough for the Boilers (11-5) to prevent a 0-3 Big Ten start.
Hammons overcame foul trouble to score a team-high 18 points, going 6-for-7 from the line. Point guard Ronnie Johnson, whose 4-for-10 free throw shooting (all in the second half) kept Nebraska in the game, finished with 14 points, 10 in the second half. Carter came off the bench for eight points and a team-leading seven rebounds.
Nebraska (8-8, 0-4) was led by Terran Petteway's 19 points.
Purdue ended the game on a 15-6 run, holding the Cornhuskers scoreless for six straight minutes.
"We lost our discipline at the end," Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. "We, had been playing pretty well. We can't have that many empty possessions late in the game. Lack of executing cost us the game."
Purdue committed nine second-half turnovers, plus was just 12-for-23 from the line in the second half to keep the Cornhuskers in the game.
Still, at the end, the Boilers were solid under must-win pressure at Mackey Arena.
"There was a stretch where we couldn't score and get stops," coach Matt Painter said. "We didn't have a good game defensively until the last six to seven minutes. Then we were able to get some key stops.
"It's effort and results. I didn’t like the results until the end. We played our best at the end. We still missed some free throws. We left some points out there. We've got to do a better job on free throws."
Hammons started the game with a big emphasis staying out of foul trouble. He picked up his first two minutes into the game, then sat out the next 10. Six minutes later, he got his second foul. Out he went again for the rest of the half with nine points and two rebounds.
Jay Simpson replaced him the first time and did little. The second time he muscled in a hook shot, then hit a three-pointer. Add a Kendall Stephens three-pointer and Purdue led 35-32 at halftime.
The Boilers had multiple chances to take control in the second half, but committing six turnovers in seven possessions enabled Nebraska to take a 58-55 lead. Purdue finally took charge to earn the victory.
"In the first half we did a good job of taking care of the ball (just three turnovers)," Painter said. "In the second half, we really struggled. We threw it to them three times. We had a lot of break downs defensively.
"At the end, we did a better job of getting long rebounds and getting stops. That’s so important to take care of the ball, get stops and chase down long rebounds when it comes down to a possession game."