It all started with cheering during the introduction of Ohio State’s starters.
That is an odd sight, but it was in small pockets throughout the crowd and pretty much the opposite of the 2010 football game vs. Minnesota when the new about Robbie Hummel’s second injury spread through the crowd. Indiana trailed Michigan State for 38 of 40 minutes, but came back to win 63-62. That meant just as we were tipping off, Purdue was playing for sole possession of first place in the Big Ten with two games to go.
The Boilers certainly seized the opportunity.
It looked like we were going to have a game when Andre Wesson tied it at 7-7 with 15:01 left in the first half, but then Purdue unleashed the fury. The Boilers hit on five straight three points from five different players. Ryan Cline, Grady Eifert, Carsen Edwards, Evan Boudreaux, and Aaron Wheeler all hit from deep. Carsen would eventually get 19 in the first half and if not for a Matt Haarms missed free throw with 51 seconds left Purdue would have led at halftime by the same 49-20 margin it beat Ohio State in football back in October.
Let it be said that the complete turnaround by this team has been amazing. On December 15th Purdue lost to a pretty bad Notre Dame team 88-80 in a lifeless effort in Indianapolis. We sat at 6-5 after that game and I had doubts we would even make the tournament.
I felt from the beginning this year that making the tournament was a reasonable goal, but we had lost too much to compete in a tough Big Ten. In mid-December it looked even worse. Purdue was struggling and had gone 0-4 in its four big non-conference games. With the Big Ten looking stacked as the likes of Minnesota, Nebraska, and Indiana were even spending time in the top 25, missing the tournament was starting to look likely.
Since that moment Purdue has gone 16-2.
This has just been a different team in every aspect since then. We used a couple of non-conference games against Ohio and Belmont to right things, then got a nice win over Iowa at home. Things really turned aftergritting out an overtime win at Wisconsin. I wrote how that overtime sequence saved the season, but it really did. It started a stunning run through conference play where we have lost only once since. Today was a prime example of how it got done. We have an All-American, a solid big man, two senior leaders, and everyone knows their roles. How else do you explain Boudreaux coming in and scoring 6 points after barely leaving the bench for weeks? How about Wheeler reaching double figures or Eric Hunter Jr. making big plays and scoring for the first time in 9 games?
Now here we are, a game away from at least a share of a record 24th conference championship. All we need to do is win one of two games left, and one game is at the last place team in the conference.
What a reward for this team. These guys were told all offseason that what we lost was going to be too much to overcome. Now they are 40 minutes away from getting what last year’s group couldn’t do. That is not to take away from last year’s guys, who did win a championship in their careers and accomplished a lot. It is just a joy to see them vastly overachieve.
And much credit goes to its two seniors: Ryan Cline and Grady Eifert. They now leave Purdue with a 63-4 mark at home, which is more home wins than any Purdue class ever. They need two more wins to tie the career overall wins mark, and they just completed only the third ever undefeated home season in Mackey Arena.
And, of course, there is Carsen. This may have been his last game ever in Mackey as well. He got to 25 points, tied the single season 3-pointers record with 100, then took a break for most of the second half. On Tuesday he started to wake up., Today he was classic Carsen, and it opened things up for so much more. Everyone contributed and Purdue turned in its best basketball in weeks. If there is such a thing as peaking at the right time, this might be it.
It’s going to be an exciting week. We only need one game, and if we get some breaks like Maryland beating Michigan and Michigan beating Michigan State we don’t even need that. I don’t know what will happen in the NCAA Tournament, but winning a Big Ten regular season title in a year where most picked us to finish between 6th and 8th makes it an unmitigated success. Last year felt like a lost title because we were a rebound away. This year is a surprise title. Making it pretty sweet.
We’re one step away.