The Purdue Boilermakers beat Northwestern 69-65 in their last regular season game of the year.
Purdue came into Welsh-Ryan Arena having already clenched their B10 leading 23rd Big Ten regular season title outright. The Northwestern Wildcats have never made the NCAA tournament before. After the Wildcat’s last second win against the Wolverines, they had all but assured their first trip to March Madness. But how sure can a fan base feel about getting to a nirvana they’ve never seen before? If Michigan made them a lock, a win against the Boilermakers would make their resume undeniable. This game looked like it meant more to the Wildcats than the Boilers on paper.
It looked early like Northwestern did in fact want it more. Jumping to an early 21-12 lead behind second-chance points.
By halftime, both teams had settled in to a 37-37 tie, and it was clear neither team was willing to give in to the other. The Boilers wanted to finish the season strong and improve their seeding in the NCAA tournament, the Wildcats wanted the B10 champs to know they belonged.
When the Boilers took a 59-50 lead with 7 minutes left after a gorgeous Spike feed led to a monster Swanigan dunk, the game seemed to be at hand. But Northwestern kept coming, closing the gap with a 6-0 run to pull within a possession. Eventually they pulled within one at 60-59, but Purdue would not relinquish the lead. Caleb Swanigan controlled the post, drawing fouls and making a tough step back on his way to 20 points to go with his 14 rebounds. Most encouraging about Caleb’s performance, was that he didn’t have a single turnover, despite being the focus of the offense and defense late.
But the best player on the floor for most the game was Caleb’s front court partner, Vincent Edwards. Edwards had a game high 25 points on 14 field goals, made all 7 of his free throws, and had 5 assists. He scored by attacking the basket, making a couple highlight finishes with his left hand at the rim.
Dakota Mathias got hot early, scoring 12 of his 13 in the first half, knocking down 2 of his 5 attempts from deep.
This wasn’t a game of balance. Besides those three, not a single Boiler scored over 3 points. But the combined play of PJ and Spike made up for an erroneous final regular season game from the true freshman Carsen Edwards who was 0 of 5 from the field with 2 turnovers. PJ and Spike combined for just 5 points, but they collected zero turnovers while piling up a combined 7 assists.
Purdue’s defense was steady. They held the Wildcats to 4 of 19 from deep while clamping down on everyone not named McIntosh. Bryant McIntosh tied the game high with 25 points on 10 of 17 shooting but Purdue was able to hold Scottie Lindsey and Vic Law into off nights. The two combined to go 5 of 24 from the field.
Welsh-Ryan Arena will close down for major renovations after this season. The Wildcats are a program on the rise, finally looking to make it into March Madness, but tonight was all about the excellence of Purdue’s big 3. Their best was just too good for the Wildcats on a night where neither team could hit from deep.
The Boilers avoided a late season hiccup and take their 23rd B10 title with a two game edge on everyone else. They’ll get the first seed and the double-bye in the B10 tournament while Northwestern tries to add a little more insurance to their resume.
The Boilers avoided a let down on the road against a tournament team. Their best players are playing at their best at the exact right time.