He scored a combined 22 points in UW's first seven conference games and after starting every game for the Badgers since the opener, Nankivil was replaced in the starting lineup by Kevin Gullikson at Iowa, as UW Coach Bo Ryan cited that Gullikson had earned it. Tuesday night was a good night for the Madison native. Unfortunately, it was another sour night for Wisconsin.
Averaging 4.4 points at the game's outset, Nankivil simply couldn't miss against No.16 Purdue, scoring a career-high 21 points, 14 of which came in the second half, to help the Badgers stay close to the Boilermakers until the final buzzer, when Wisconsin was sent to its fifth loss in a row by a 64-63 margin.
"Nankivil, obviously, had a huge game going," Purdue head coach Matt Painter said. "You really don't like to adjust on the fly (and) he really put a wrinkle in it for us. (Nankivil) made us pay."
Leading the team in points at halftime, Nankivil caught fire in the second half, hitting all four of his three-point attempts, finishing a perfect 5-for-5 from three-point range. Nankivil entered the game 1-for-4 lifetime from three point range.
The sophomore from Madison Memorial played a career-high 32 minutes, went a perfect 4-for-4 from the free throw line, shot 5-for-8, grabbed three rebounds and had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2-to-1.
"We know what Keaton can do on any given night," freshman Jordan Taylor said. "We've probably got five or six guys that can go out and do what Keaton did. Tonight Keaton just happened to be the guy and he played big."
Trailing 49-46 with 9:18 left on the clock, Nankivil help spur the Badgers on a 10-2 run, hitting his fourth and fifth three-pointer, to give the Badgers a 61-56 lead with 3:58 remaining.
It wasn't until Nankivil was jogging back up court after hitting his fifth three that Purdue finally got the message. The Boilermakers switched forward JaJuan Johnson off Nankivil and reassigned guard Robbie Hummel, bad back and all, to try and stiffen the hot shooter.
"There ball screen action, they do it a couple different ways with one guy diving to the basket," Painter said about the switch. "We were very concerned with Marcus Landry and him getting to the basket, which would be positive for Wisconsin. We were going to switch with Robbie to try and knock the ball out (to the perimeter). That gave us some backline help and allowed Robbie, who is a little bit quicker to the basketball and a little bit more mobile, (to) help a little bit."
The move worked, as Nankivil, with Hummel in his face, was never given enough room to shoot for the remained of the game. After Nankivil, UWs only consistent scorer, capped his scoring with two free throws to give UW a 58-54 lead, the Boilermakers went on an 8-0 run that silenced the Badgers for good.
"After losing one game and now five in a row, that's the least important thing," Nankivil said when asked about the overview of his night. "We just have to find a way to get back on track."
From the looks of things, Nankivil seems to have found his niche for the time being. Not one to strive for the spotlight, Nankivil acknowledged that consistency is his biggest enemy right now, as the Badgers starting forward knows that consistent production from him will lead to more minutes and more abilities for him to produce for his team.
Right now, the Badgers need to bottle some of Nankivil's shots, as Wisconsin heads back to work on Thursday, hoping there are still some more good days to come.
"It could be hard, but just come to practice everyday and work hard," Nankivil said about moving on. "More than anything, just try to get everybody to do … something. One player can't do anything by himself. We need five players on the floor and 17 people that can work in practice.
"We need everybody to keep working hard so we can get this next win hopefully."