By KEITH CARRELL
ISL Purdue Writer
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The only thing better than winning a conference championship is beating your biggest rival to clinch it.
Purdue defeated in-state rival Indiana 86-75 on Tuesday night to clinch a share of the Big Ten title.
Purdue entered the contest owning a one game lead in the race to win the Big Ten regular season crown; a feat it had accomplished more than any other program except for Indiana. The Hoosiers had the opportunity to deny, or at least delay, Purdue’s hopes of winning its 23rd title by playing spoilers, but fate had another plan, effort had another plan… it was time to work hard.
— Purdue Basketball (@BoilerBall) March 1, 2017
A rivalry game played more than any other in the Big Ten’s history has so much meaning to the teams, but especially the fans and the anticipation was palpable even thirty minutes before tip on a crisp afternoon in West Lafayette where the campus was buzzing and the stands nearly full. It had been 762 days since the Hoosiers last traveled to West Lafayette thanks to the Big Ten’s unbalanced schedule. Kids in Indiana grow up hearing about Bobby Knight, Gene Keady, Bobby ‘Slick’ Leonard, John Wooden, Isiah Thomas, Rick Mount, and so many other legends that squared off in the intrastate rivalry. So it was drolly fitting that two athletes from Ohio took control of the contest early for Purdue, Vincent Edwards and Dakota Mathias.
— Purdue On BTN (@PurdueOnBTN) March 1, 2017
Headed by Mathias and Edwards, the Boilers shot out of the gates like the thoroughbreds they aspire to be while the Hoosiers saw their upset bid slipping out of their grasp just three minutes into the contest before Josh Newkirk sank a layup to stymie Purdue’s 6-0 start. Indiana got a little bit of traction and, aided by Purdue’s stagnant offense and sloppy passing, chipped away at the Boiler lead until Newkirk nailed a three to knot the game at 14 with 12:32 remaining in the first half. Moments later, Devonte Green gave Indiana its first, and only, lead of the game by hitting a trey of his own.
Purdue coach Matt Painter had seen enough and unleashed the Kraken (Read: Midwestern Cowboy), Mathias. Mathias, who had struggled shooting the ball of late, checked into the game and immediately nailed a three to tie the game and start a solo 8-0 run to give Purdue a 22-17 lead. Mathias led the way on both ends of the court and Indiana couldn’t get out of its own way to buy a basket as Purdue reeled off perhaps its best eight minute stretch of the season by blowing the game open on a 26-to-eight run to command a 40-25 lead with just under three minutes left in the first half.
Indiana wasn’t going to roll over, though, and scored the half’s final seven points to cut the Purdue lead in half and took momentum into the locker room. Coming out of the break, Indiana continued their hot shooting and saw three triples find the bottom of the nets in the first three minutes while Purdue clung to a 45-41 advantage.
Caleb Swanigan, after putting together a paltry four points and four rebounds stat line in the opening stanza, decided to show up to the game and seemingly made it his mission to will Purdue to a win. Swanigan would earn his 24th Double-Double of the season by scoring 17 points and grabbing six boards in perhaps his final half of basketball in Mackey Arena. Swanigan was also the most active he had been this season on the defensive end by blocking three Hoosier shot attempts. Swanigan’s play also spelled doom for Indiana’s bigs who each got into foul trouble trying to contain the National Player of the Year hopeful. De’Ron Davis was the first victim, fouling out with twelve minutes remaining, but he wouldn’t be alone. Little-used Tim Priller checked into the game and quickly earned four fouls in under five minutes. Thomas Bryant, already having earned four of his own fouls, checked in for Priller and played for about 90 seconds before sending Swanigan to the charity stripe and himself to the bench for the rest of the game. With Purdue’s size, Bryant fouling out was the death knell and the Boilers ballooned their lead to as many as 16. Indiana had one final push to challenge Purdue, but could only cut the lead down to as little as ten.
With the game out of reach, Painter motioned to Spike Albrecht to check into the game a final time at home and the fans applauded the senior in gratitude for his leadership and services. Midway through the second half, Indiana inadvertently gifted the grad-transfer an open three for Senior Night to give the Boilers a double-digit lead. On the final possession, Painter called a timeout to allow the once-walk-on and little used reserve Jon McKeeman to check into the contest for the first time. Freshman Carsen Edwards, in a sign of respect and appreciation, made sure to inbound the ball to McKeeman.
McKeeman dribbled out the clock and immediately a loud bang was heard from above center court which rained gold confetti down onto the court and fans. Queen’s “We are the Champions” began to play on the loud speak as tables, framed jerseys, and ladders were brought onto the court for celebration. The Big Ten trophy sat atop one of the tables near midcourt, Purdue Pete was making a snow angle in the confetti on the court, and the team received their championship garb before making their way toward the trophy. Mathias received the trophy and hoisted it into the air in a euphoric moment shared among him, the team, and the fans.
— WTHR.com (@WTHRcom) March 1, 2017
The senior trainer, managers, and players were joined by their families on the court and were individually announced to the crowd. Albrecht had his highlights played on the video board and then was handed the microphone and guaranteed a short speech by thanking his family and the fans before adding in earnest gratefulness, “being from Indiana and coming back home to play at Mackey exceeded (my) expectations.”
McKeeman had a relatively short highlight package shown and then took the microphone from Albrecht. “I think that was a comprehensive video of every minute I played,” he quipped before continuing to thank everyone from his family to the fans and Painter for not only giving him the opportunity to play for Purdue, but to be provided with a scholarship for his final season.
Painter then began to speak about his two seniors who hadn’t played for Purdue long or often, but meant a lot to the program, “You have to get people that are about winning and Spike Albrecht and Jon McKeeman are about winning.” Painter alluded to their leadership and how it has helped guide Purdue from last in the Big Ten a few years ago to now being champions. “We were not in a good spot three or four years ago,” Painter mentioned before lightening the mood, “I think I got emails from about half of the people here letting me know.”
Keady, in 1994 needed to be told by his then assistant, Bruce Weber, that Glenn Robinson had likely played his last game in Mackey after his junior season. Unlike his predecessor, Painter needed no one to inform him that this game likely was Swanigan’s last in Mackey Arena and in tribute with a nod on Senior Night, after speaking to how much Albrecht and McKeeman’s leadership meant to turning Purdue basketball into a championship team, he added, “it helps adding ‘Biggie’ Swanigan.”
The Boilers guaranteed themselves the top seed in the Big Ten Tournament, but will need Wisconsin to lose at least one of their remaining two games or need to win at Northwestern Sunday to win the title outright. Purdue will be expected to make a run for the Big Ten Tournament title as well prior to attempting a run at the oft-elusive Final Four in the NCAA Tournament.
Purdue for the first time in history defeated Indiana to clinch at least a share of the Big Ten crown. The team cut down the nets after the win, but Painter wasn’t satisfied with just that, “We still have a lot of basketball left to play.”
Forty-eight total fouls were called in the game and six players had at least four each… Indiana attempted no free throws in the first half, but went 13-17 in the second half; Purdue made 28 of their 33 attempts… Indiana outrebounded Purdue 35-29… It was the first regular season conference title for Purdue since 2010… Should the Boilers win the title outright, it will be the first time they’ve accomplished that feat since 1996… With Tom Crean at the helm for Indiana, no game at Mackey has been decided by single digits regardless of the winner… Although he may not have needed it, Isaac Haas did in fact use a couple rungs of the ladder before cutting down his piece of the net. Indiana Governor, Eric Holcomb, was on campus to take in the rivalry tilt and was announced to the crowd in the first half… During a break in the first half, Bill Fall who was an usher for decades at Purdue was shown on the video board in celebration of his 100th birthday… V. Edwards was honored after the game with a ball commemorating his 1,000 points scored at Purdue and Swanigan received a ball commemorating his record for rebounds in a season for a Purdue player… Purdue has not lost back-to-back regular season games for two consecutive years… V. Edwards is nine rebounds away from having 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, and 250 assists in his career (he would be the sixth Boiler to accomplish the feat)… Haas is 11 points away from his 1,000th career point… Purdue has had three consecutive years of at least 12 conference wins for the second time in school history, five consecutive in the 1994-98 seasons… Purdue’s only win in the Big Ten Tournament came in 2009, but was the runner-up in the first (1998) and most recent (2016) tournaments as well.