Today Purdue did not win the Big Ten title. It did, however, take a very big step towards its elusive 23rd conference championship. Wisconsin entered today as the last unbeaten team in conference play. They were playing with confidence after a very good win earlier this week in Bloomington. They were also averaging 77.4 points per game.
Purdue held them to 55.
Purdue’s defensive effort was tremendous today, especially in the first half. The Badgers hit only one shot outside of the immediate paint area in the first 20 minutes. Bronson Koenig, their leading scorer at 14.3 points per game, had four points until five late points int he final minutes helped him out long after the game decided. The Badgers were hassled into 39% shooting from the floor.
The biggest moment came with 14:08 left. Turnovers had been a Purdue issue, and Ethan Happ got a steal before passing ahead to D’Mitrik Trice. Purdue was leading only 40-36 at the time and it should have been the easiest two points of Trice’s career.
He botched the layup.
Caleb Swanigan (who else?) came flying in for the rebound and Alex Illikainen fouled him. It led to a critical 12-0 run where Ryan Cline scored seven on some great looks. The Badgers never got it to single-digits again.
Purdue only had two players in double figures here. Swanigan had an 18 13 because he does that every game. Isaac Haas came off the bench for, quite frankly, his best game of hte year. He not only had 13 points and five rebounds, he got in Ethan Happ’s head on both ends of the floor. When Happ started the second half strong Haas came in and completely dominated him. Happ was 7 of 16 from the floor, whil Haas was a very efficient 4 of 6. He was also assertive, one time even ferociously dunking a rebound after he had just missed a dunk.
Let’s also not forget P.J. Thompson, who hit yet another big 3-pointer with 10:34 left. He had 9 points, 4 assists, and only one turnover. Dakota Mathias also did Dakota Mathias things with 8 points and 7 assists.
Now Purdue has an excellent chance to go on a run in league play. Before an always tough trip to Michigan State Purdue gets Iowa (who it has already beaten by 22) ont he road, then Illinois and Penn State at home. If we’re going to win this conference those have to be three wins. We then go to Michigan State and Nebraska, who happen to be the two teams we’re tied with atop the B1G standings.
The Drive to 23 is rolling.