Purdue Alone Atop the Big Ten After Outlasting Michigan

By KEITH CARRELL
@BoilerColts
ISL Purdue Writer

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — “Defense Lives Here,” the saying plastered in giant letters across the railing in front of the Purdue student section, the Paint Crew, inside Mackey Arena.  This season Purdue has lived up to that mantra, be it by turnovers, which allow the Paint Crew to flip over a counter on that sign with pride, by blocked shots, or merely by just playing solid half court, in your face, man defense. How good has Purdue’s defense been? Going into the Michigan game, Purdue hadn’t allowed an opponent to break the 80 point mark and had held twelve consecutive opponents under 70 points. Make no mistake, this was not one of those games. Michigan made an astonishing 60% of their shots (including 13 threes) and outrebounded the Boilers by four; arguably playing their best game of the season and that, THAT (read it again, Michigan’s… best… game… of… the… season), is the key to how important this Boilermaker victory was. Purdue took the best shot from one of the best teams in the Big Ten and the 25th ranked team in the nation and still came out victorious, notching a 92-88 win.

A little over two weeks ago, Purdue escaped Ann Arbor with a one point victory. The Wolverines followed up that loss by going into East Lansing and knocking off Michigan State to firmly put themselves on the map of teams to watch. Purdue completed the season sweep tonight, but the series was by far the toughest the Boilers have faced in conference action this season. Head Coach John Beilein prepares his teams well and has repeatedly presented a challenge for Matt Painter and the Purdue Boilermakers over the years.

“It was a great basketball game. Purdue is extremely talented. It’s a challenge that I think few coaches want to face where you have five lights out shooters on the perimeter.” – Beilein

The season sweep of Michigan extended Purdue’s Division I-leading win streak to 16, tying the record by any Purdue squad in history. During that win streak only one team has lost by single digits and that team, Michigan, did so twice, losing by a grand total of five points. The difference, the fact that Purdue is winning games like that, is a large reason into why so many fans and purported experts are beginning to believe this Purdue team has what it takes to make a push for a Final Four this season, even after losing Caleb Swanigan, last season’s Big Ten Player of the Year, to the NBA.

Purdue used this game as an opportunity to raise funds for research and awareness of cancer. The coaches laced up sneakers to wear with their suits, the team wore neon green warm-up shirts with the phrase “Hammer Down Cancer” streaked across the front, the cheerleaders held neon green pom-poms, fans were able to partake in a car smash prior to the game to raise funds for the “Hammer Down Cancer” cause, and Purdue’s offensive game plan seemed to take a nod from the saying. It was apparent from the beginning that the theme of the night for Purdue would be to hammer it down low to Isaac Haas and Vincent Edwards.

Haas had taken a back seat the prior two contests having netted only five total points on six field goal attempts as opponents had an exaggerated and concerted focus on taking him away. Against Michigan, there was no denying Haas from the tip, the 7’2” senior posted up and notched Purdue’s first six points and eleven of the first 19 by the midway point in the first half. When Haas wasn’t scoring, Edwards took over (he was the only other Boiler to score in the first eleven minutes) and became a nightmare for defenders by rotating outside looks, post ups, and drives on his way to notching a career high 30 points (nine-eleven from the field, three-three from deep, and nine-ten from the line).

“I believe we’re the best team in the nation, and I just want to show everybody.” – Haas

In the first half when Haas and Edwards weren’t knocking down shots and when Michigan was pushing the tempo and score ever higher, Carsen Edwards completed the triumvirate by using his own aggressiveness to find open shooters or knock down shot after shot. At one point in transition, C. Edwards stopped and popped from the left elbow to knock down a three (the kind that at best is ill-advised and at worst you can almost hear their coach screaming, “no, no, no, no…. Yes!”). C. Edwards capped off the half with the ball in his hands and the clock winding down by dribbling left to the top of the key and — with two defenders raising toward him, hands in his face — Edwards buried the triple to give the Boilers a five point advantage at the break. C. Edwards play this season, especially of late, has been beyond stellar. He entered the contest having committed only one turnover in the past four games (he did commit five of the team’s ten tonight, but also added three assists, a late block, and a steal) and the clip at which he’s been knocking down shots and using his matured decision making to maximize his aggressiveness gives the notion that he could be hustling his way onto a future NBA roster, even with his diminutive 6’1” height.

Oftentimes this season, Painter has opted to substitute offense for defense with Haas and Matt Haarms. Early on in this contest, Haas was the better player on both ends, pounding away at Michigan down low and standing his ground on the defensive end (although he did pick up his first foul four minutes into the game when he left his feet to try to block Charles Matthews’ shot and, to Matthews’ dismay, completely landed on top of the Wolverine – Matthews was okay and knocked down his free throws, but nobody would envy getting smothered between the hardwood and the 290 pound Haas). Haarms’ bread and butter this season has been blocking shots and often has accomplished that by cheating off of his man in an effort to protect the rim; that model didn’t work against Michigan’s lineup — not in the first tilt and not in the second. Between the agility of Michigan’s guards like Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Zavier Simpson and the stretch five that is Moritz Wagner, Michigan was able to make Haarms pay whenever he left his man. The Wolverines, time after time, hit Wagner and Jon Teske rolling off their screens, found them open on the weak side, or the quick guards slipped past Haarms (he is still 7’3” even if he is relatively quick with his feet) when he was too apt to switch onto them off of screens. The blame likely isn’t fair to fully put on Haarms’ shoulders, but the correction didn’t seem to be made and was a large reason Michigan was able to close the gap after Purdue opened up a nine point lead in the first half and again in the second half when Purdue had used a 14-to-two run to open up another nine point lead that Michigan quickly evaporated down to four with four minutes left. With the matchups Michigan presented, it could be curious, then, that Painter still opted to switch Haas and Haarms on offense and defense as frequently as possible near the end of the game, but his apparent trust in both players was rewarded with a solid finish by the duo.

Vincent Edwards attempts to ice the game from the foul line late. Edwards made nine of his ten attempts, including seven of eight in the closing minute.-photo by Keith Carrell

Vincent Edwards attempts to ice the game from the foul line late. Edwards made nine of his ten attempts, including seven of eight in the closing minute.-photo by Keith Carrell

The second half began so rapidly that it almost felt like both teams were playing horse with a Gatling gun that had been tuned with the accuracy of a sniper rifle. In the first eleven minutes after intermission, the teams had combined to go 77% from the field (24-31, including 11-14 from long range) while only committing two total fouls. The cannons cooled briefly after Purdue had opened up a 79-70 lead with five and a half minutes left, but the teams still finished with video game numbers for the contest. Purdue went 31-50 from the field, 11-20 from three, and 19-23 from the free throw line (62%, 55%, and 83%, respectively) while Michigan went 35-58 from the field, 13-23 from deep, and five of nine from the line (60%, 57%, and 56%).

In the first game at Michigan, a Haas free throw at the end of regulation sealed the win. It was only fitting that the Boilers were able to salt the game away from the charity stripe in the rematch. The Boilers sank eleven of their twelve attempts from the line in the final 77 seconds to put a bow on the victory Thursday night.

Painter said it, just matter of factly after the game, “We were fortunate to get this win today.”

Purdue isn’t just a good team this year, they’re a great team; even without any perceived 2018 NBA lottery pick on the roster. The versatility and mature resiliency of the team has never been more present than in how they won against Michigan, a team that likely played their best game of the season in a losing effort. For some perspective, no other team in Division I (at least since the 2010-2011 season) has lost when shooting over 60% from the field, made at least 13 threes, outrebounded their opponent by at least four, and committed eleven or fewer turnovers. Buckle in, because this ride for Purdue Basketball could be a long one, but the Boilers may need a new car after the last one was smashed by fans hammering down cancer, five whacks at a time.

Next up:
Away: Indiana on Sunday, 1/28 (3:30 pm, Fox)
Home: Maryland on Wednesday, 1/31 (8:30 pm, BTN)

Quick Hits:
Purdue currently sits with sole possession of first place (and the only undefeated team) in the Big Ten after Penn State upset Ohio State in Columbus (worth noting that Keita Bates-Diop was questionable to play in that game with an illness, but did end up playing 32 minutes and led his team with 25 points)… The 9-0 start for the Boilers is their first in conference play… Purdue shot lights out from deep in their record setting performance (most by a Purdue team, most by a Big Ten team in a conference game, and most in Carver-Hawkeye Arena) against Iowa, making 20 triples, but it took seven minutes before V. Edwards knocked down the first trey against Michigan… With both teams shooting at a high clip, there weren’t a lot of boards to be had, but Michigan managed to snag a few more with 25 to Purdue’s 21… V. Edwards had a career high 30 points, but got major help from Haas (24), C. Edwards (13), and Dakota Mathias (nine)… Michigan’s scoring was led by Abdur-Rahkman’s 26, but Simpson had 16, Wagner added 15, and Matthews chipped in ten… The game was truly a back-and-forth affair with the lead changing hands 24 times, but neither team ever led by more than nine… Jacquil Taylor was absent from the game as he was attending a funeral… Matt Haarms, who typically is seen in jersey number 32 had to switch to 34 after halftime because he managed to get a large rip in his normal jersey… Purdue assisted on 22 of their 31 made baskets, including a career high three from Haas… With Purdue’s 11 made threes against Michigan, it’s the first time they’ve connected on at least ten in five straight games… In their past nine games, the Boilers have made exactly 50% of their threes (114-228)… Purdue’s 16 game win streak matches the longest in school history (accomplished three other times, most recently in the 1987-88 season)… Referee Gene Steratore was originally slotted to call the game, but was replaced because he was selected to officiate in the Super Bowl… Purdue remained at #3 in the AP and Coaches Polls this week, Villanova and Virginia are ranked ahead of the Boilers in both.

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