First-Place Boilers Win Seventh Straight, 73-63
Carsen Edwards was 1 for 9 from three, 6 for 20 overall, and was the third-highest scorer on the court. Purdue was 5 for 24 from three, including 1 for 13 in a first half that saw them attempt just one free throw and miss it.
Naturally, none of that mattered, as Edwards was one of five Boilers in double figures, with Matt Haarms coming off the bench for his best performance all season: 15 points on 7 for 9 shooting, 8 boards (5 offensive) and 5 blocks, drawing 4 fouls and committing 0. Trevion Williams added 16 on 8 for 11 shooting, and with Ryan Cline and Nojel Eastern adding 11 each, there were just too many Good Guys for Richard Pitino’s team to contain. The end result was a 10-point win, Purdue’s 7th straight conference victory and 8th in their last 9, part of a 10-1 stretch that has seen them vault from a 6-5 malaise to an actual real not-just-tied-in-the-loss-column 9-2 conference record and 16-6 overall.
It’s like this. If you’ve ever played a Gran Turismo or Forza game, you'll know what I mean. You’re on a course that is kind of tricky, somewhere in the middle of the pack, and you’re just trying to stay where you are so you don’t have to complete the race again. The first couple of cars are way out front, and it’s all you can do to stay with the pack; you lose a spot or two on a turn, slowly pull even on a straightaway, and then here’s another turn and you’re back in 7th or 8th or whatever. But you know there’s a chicane coming up, and you can’t remember if the hill is after the first curve or the second, and there’s no time to think because here it comes … so you slide into the car on the outside, letting it hold you on the line you want, you hit the gas, straighten out, catch the hill just right, settle down in the second turn, straighten again …
… and there’s no one in front of you. You start to wonder if you’re even on the right course now, but no, the number that said 7 says 1 now, and the dots are closing in, so you’re definitely in the lead, even though you probably shouldn’t be. You’re not really sure what happened, but what you know now is that you’re in first, and if no one passes you, you can win this thing.
I’m not a great lead driver, in part because despite having a great memory, I don’t like memorizing tracks, I’d rather just drive and react, so I fare much better in 2nd or 3rd following an AI driver. We’re about to find out what kind of driver Matt Painter is in his current car when he’s got the lead.
Perimeter defense. Yes, Minnesota is a terrible outside team: coming in, they were 299th in 3Pt% and 341st in 3PA/FGA. However, other recent opponents like Penn State magically got better against Purdue’s outside defense. Minnesota did not: 2 for 16 is significantly worse than their season average. Limiting attempts means you didn’t give up a lot of good looks.
Ball control. Purdue had 7 turnovers for the game. When you’re only wasting one out of ten possessions, you’re going to be more effective even if you’re struggling overall, and the Boilers needed that today.
Nojel Eastern at the line. 5 for 6 overall, leading the team in makes. Yeah, he missed one late … when Purdue was up 11. (If someone can explain to me why Richard had his team fouling when they were down about five possessions with :21 left, I’d like to hear it.) He’s now shooting .645 from the line this season, 21 for his last 24, and while the streak stopped at 20, he’s still a solid guy in the clutch, and there are few things better than having two solid defenders who shoot FTs well.
Haarms. An ORtg of 167 with 21% of the possessions is really, really good (kenpom MVP this game). The Williams/Haarms rotation has basically completed the starting lineup; while Haarms may still not be ready to face starting centers every night, he’s more than capable of taking backups to school, and every quality minute from him is a minute that Williams can rest, watch and learn.
The comeback. With six minutes gone in the second half, Minnesota was somehow up 13. When the Gophers scored again, it was to break a 47-all tie; that 49-47 lead would be the last one they had. In that next six-minute stretch, the Good Guys had a 21-4 advantage. Yeah, it helps to be at home, but you don’t have to look any farther than last night’s IU-MSU game to find a home team that just couldn’t get a run when they needed one.
The need for a comeback. After Williams got the Boilers an early second-half lead, Minnesota went on a 19-5 run, forcing 3 of Purdue’s 7 turnovers and shooting .700 from the field plus 4 of 5 from the line. When this stretch of Ws ends, it will be because of a sequence like this one, where the Boilers fall into a rut and also struggle defensively.
Free throws by not-Eastern. Even Boogie missed two. 10 for 17 is not where Purdue needs to be, especially when their outside shots aren’t falling.
Noon tipoffs. Come on, some of us are just getting up then. Can’t we enjoy our weekends without the pressure of having to watch basketball first thing in the afternoon?
Purdue is off until Saturday, when they’ll host a Nebraska team that has lost five straight and seven of nine, and will also have played Maryland on Wednesday in what will likely be loss #6 and eight of ten; Tim Miles’ wafer-thin bench has been cracked by the loss of Isaac Copeland for the season, which is a shame. We’ll never know if Nebraska was a legitimate conference contender or if they just looked good because they had a favorable early schedule (6 of their last 9 are against kenpom top-25 teams). Purdue is an 8-point favorite on both analytic sites, and it likely won’t be that close since algorithms generally don’t take injuries into account effectively.
kenpom and Torvik both predict 15-5 for the Good Guys, tied with UM and one game back of MSU. That’s basically saying that Purdue’s remaining schedule is a bit easier, but the Good Guys aren’t quite up with the Spartans. That kind of seems about right, but then Purdue isn’t the team with an inexplicable home-court conference loss - in fact, the Boilers haven’t lost a home conference game yet. It still seems kind of weird to think of Purdue as the frontrunner for the conference title, but look at this:
Remaining games against top five
MSU: at Wisconsin, at Michigan, vs Michigan
Michigan: vs Wisconsin, vs Maryland, vs MSU, at Maryland, at MSU
Purdue: at Maryland
Wisconsin: at Michigan, vs MSU
Maryland: vs Purdue, at Michigan, vs Michigan
We were discussing the IU win in BS chat yesterday - at the time, I preferred to have MSU win so that IU could continue losing, hopefully until the end of time. Looking back, maybe this was better. In a worst-case scenario, Purdue was still tied for first at one point in the season, well after we thought they’d have fallen back to the pack. Torvik gives the Good Guys a 4.1% chance to win out and a 40.2% chance to get at least a share of the title (MSU and Michigan have the other legit shots; Wisconsin, Maryland and even Iowa are just along for the ride). It might not happen, but right now, it sure seems like it will, doesn’t it? Don’t know about you, but I’m going to sit back and enjoy the ride for a while.
Hurray! Quality photos courtesy of our friends at Purdue Sports: Charles Jischke, Paul Sadler, David Wegiel and Larissa Leck