It wasn't pretty. Purdue missed 12 free throws at home and shot less than 40% from the field, but its grind-it-out defense combined with grit and simply out-working an opponent for loose balls and rebounds was enough for the ninth Big Ten win of the season. That clinches a number of things:
- No matter what, Purdue will now have an overall winning record for the first time since 2012.
- Purdue cannot finish below .500 in the Big Ten.
- Barring a total collapse in the last five games, Purdue will not have to play on Wednesday of the Big Ten Tournament, which is all but reserved for Nebraska, Penn State, Northwestern, and Rutgers now.
Other than that, it was another ugly win like the Thursday victory over Rutgers. I will take an ugly win over a bad team however. Better to get the ugly out of the system now than have it all there Thursday night in what amounts to the biggest game for the program in several seasons. The Boilermakers, on paper, should have some major advantages over the Hoosiers and they also have a double-digit victory just three weeks ago, but it is in Bloomington. Nothing is ever easy in Bloomington, as evidenced by an awful Indiana team taking eventual Big Ten champ Purdue to the final possession in 2010.
This game was very business-like for the Boilers. The shots were not falling, but sheer grit on the offensive glass and strong defense was more than enough after a slow start. Vince Edwards was excellent with key baskets and Hammons, while he wasn't scoring, was grabbing seemingly every rebound in sight.
Then there was Kendall Stephens and Dakota Mathias. For the first time this season both were excellent from long range in the same game, combining to go 6 of 10 for 22 points. Everyone else had some good complementary roles such as Jon Octeus going 7 of 8 from the line, Rapheal Davis having four assists just like Octeus, and the entire team staying out of foul trouble.
Overall, it was a good, solid conference win, which is all you can ask for at this stage.
There are now five games left in the regular season. Purdue absolutely must win two of them (Rutgers and Illinois) to have a chance at the NCAA Tournament, while three would state a better case and anything more puts us into lock territory. I can't see the committee leaving out a 12-6 Big Ten team that likely finishes in the top 4 of the league. That also gives a double bye in Chicago, meaning we don't have to play until Friday against a team that will have already played at least once.
So let the hate flow again. We have until Thursday to find a way to beat an Indiana team that is absolutely beatable if we keep playing defense like this, but in one of the most hostile environments imaginable. Get that one on Thursday and the entire postseason picture will look very, very good.