The Big Ten has gone a long way in showing itself as a fun, inventive basketball conference with both grinding defense and exciting offenses.
But when Michigan isn’t playing, Maryland comes into Mackey Arena to play Purdue in a rock fight.
The Boilermakers would prevail, making just enough baskets late and holding the Terrapins to 35% shooting from the floor, 62-60.
After the first half the two teams combined to turn the ball over 19 times and miss 35 of their 57 shots while trading off long stretches of scoreless basketball.
The Maryland Terapins would head to the locker room with a 34-30 lead at halftime, but both coaches would have to feel happy about their defense against the other’s star.
Anthony Cowan came into the game averaging more than 16 points a game. Purdue held him to 1 of 7 shooting in the first half and 3 of 4 from the line for 5 points.
On the other end, National Player of the Year candidate Carsen Edwards came into the game averaging 24.4 points a game, ninth best in the nation. He was just 2 of 7 from the floor, scoring 10 points, aided by 5 of 5 shooting from the free throw line.
It was Purdue’s redshirt freshman, Aaron Wheeler, who bailed out their offense time and again, knocking down 2 threes at the end of the shot clock on his way to 8 points including a last-second three to pull the deficit to just four.
Coach Painter would continue to see his redshirt freshman stepping up and making plays in conference play. Sasha Stefanavic struggled to make his open looks in the first half, going scoreless, but he brought the energy back to Mackey by sacrificing his body to give Purdue extra possessions. He got through an off-ball screen to poke a pass away from his man before missing the transition lay-up. In the next possession he fought through a screen and then chased down a missed jumper, colliding with a Terrapin and drawing a foul. His second steal a couple minutes later came on a perfect off-ball rotation as Purdue struggled to find and hold a lead.
But the favorite for B10 Player of the Year wasn’t going to go down quietly. His ability to hit tough shots might be the best in the country, evident when he hit his man with a cross-over dribble and then stepped back into a three-pointer that gave Purdue a 55-54 edge with 6:55 left in the game. Edwards would finish the game with 20 points, including going 9 of 9 from the line.
But the junior would get help from the first half hero, Wheeler, who would knock down his third three of the game and then receive a dump-off pass from Edwards in transition for an easy lay-up to push the lead to 5. Wheeler would finish the game with an impressive stat line, 15 points on 6 of 7 shooting, 3 rebounds, and a block. He provided athleticism and energy all night.
Then, back to the rocks, as both offenses struggled to make anything. Purdue missed 4 straight shots during a stretch Maryland went 1 of 8.
With a 59-56 lead, Purdue’s Carsen Edwards went to split a trap but his dribble found traffic and got knocked forward. The turnover led to two free throws on the other end as Haarms was baited into a foul at the rim. Darryl Morsell would miss the first free throw.
It would become a free throw game from there. Grady Eifert connected on the first but not the second free throw to keep it a one possession game at 60-57.
With the chance to tie the game with one shot, Purdue Coach Matt Painter decided to foul Cowan with 7 seconds left instead of the threat of overtime and after Cowan made his two free throws, it was Edwards chance to match. Two games after missing two critical free throws at Florida St. late in the game, the Junior from Texas calmly found net twice.
When Purdue fouled Cowan again, Cowan made the first free throw and what seemed like the safe strategy turned potentially fatal as Cowards second free throw was missed and Haarms couldn’t hold his position or corral the rebound. Instead, it bounced off Carsen Edwards’ knee and out of bounds. Maryland would have the ball with 2.4 seconds left, not just with a chance to tie the game and go to overtime, but outright win it.
But Nojel Eastern was able to stick to Cowan on the inbounds, blocking the last-second three-point attempt and giving Purdue their first conference win of the year and end a two-game losing skid.
Purdue will travel to Austin, Texas on Sunday to take on Texas.