It’s time for round 2. After losing at Maryland in another game where the Boilers got off to a slow start they face a strong Illinois team that is riding a wave of momentum. The Fighting Illini come to Mackey Arena tomorrow night and it is basically a must-win for Purdue. So far, Purdue’s ability to hold serve at home is providing the difference and keeping us in the NCAA Tournament conversation. That must continue if Purdue is going to keeps truggling away from West Lafayette.
There are still chances for road wins on the schedule and Purdue will get a few. It has shown too much fight in the last two road games to not eventually get one. This week we get a pair of home games, one agaisnt a top 25 team, that need to restore confidence before the finishing stretch. First up is an Illinois team that Purdue played its worst game in decades agaisnt just a few weeks ago.
From: Champaign, Illinois
Date : Tuesday, January 21, 2020
Tip Time: 7pm
Location: West Lafayette, Indiana
Arena: Mackey Arena (14,804)
Radio: Purdue Radio Network
SiriusXM Satellite: XM (Ch. 381); Internet (Ch. 968)
Live Stats: bit.ly/PurdueLiveStats
Odds: Purdue by 5.5
2018-19 Record: 12-21, 7-13 Big Ten
2019-20 Record: 12-5, 5-2 Big Ten
Record vs. Purdue: Purdue leads 102-88
Last Purdue win: 73-56 at Purdue on 2/27/2019
Last Illinois win: 63-37 at Illinois on 1/5/2020
Blog Representation: The Champaign Room
NCAA Tournament History: 30 appearances, last in 2013. 2005 NCAA Runner-up
Coach: Brad Underwood (38-44 in third season at Illinois, 147-71 overall)
It is a testament to Mackey Arena that Purdue is a 5.5 point favorite against a team that is scored 37 points agaisnt and lost by 26 to just 15 days ago. Mackey Arena is where ranked teams have come to die, however. Twice teams with a nice little ranking have come to Mackey this season. They both lost by 29 points in Purdue’s two most complete games of the season. Last season Michigan State came in at No. 5 and lost by 10. Mackey is an incredible force multiplier that is perhaps unmatched right now in all of college basketball.
Those results aside, Purdue has been vulnerable at home this year. The final three minutes and blown game against Texas are still shocking even months later. Purdue was very, very lucky to escape Minnesota in double overtime at home thanks to a Sasha Stefanovic three-pointer, some key turnovers, and a Gopher miss from point blank range at the end ot hte first overtime. That tells me nothing is guaranteed against an Illinois teamt hat is playing its best basketball in years.
In Champaign Alan Griffin came off the bench with a 16 and 12 to lead the Illini, while Kofi Cockburn and Trent Frazier each had 12. Illinois didn’t play lights out offensively. They shot a rather average 45.6% from the floor and 36.8% from three. These are good, but not incredible numbers. They only got to the free throw line 8 times and hit just 4.
The big difference, of course, was that Purdue was absolutely atrocious on offense. Purdue did not score until almost 7 minutes into the game. With 12 minutes left Purdue, depsite its struggles, found itself down 41-32 with the basketball. It failed to score on a possession where it got three good looks at the rim and managed just 5 points the rest of the way. The Illini could have not scored a single point in the last 12 mintues and still won.
Needless to say, that cannot happen this time around. Purdue isn’t beating Lafayette Jeff HS if it shoots 25% from the floor again, let alone a Big Ten team even at Mackey. Purdue even held leading scorer Ayo Dosunmu to 6 points and 7 rebounds in Champaign, but it didn’t matter because the offense was so, so bad.
At this point, we know what Purdue is. If it hits some early open shots, it is fine. If someone like Evan Boudreaux, Isaiah Thompson, Aaron Wheeler, Sasha, or Jahaad Proctor hits an open three or two, it is fine. If it doesn’t hit early, things go south quickly. Even then, there are still long stretches of stagnant offense and at least one possession per game where we make 16 passes and realize the shot clock is down to two and Nojel Eastern is 25 feet from the basket with the ball. This is a good, but flawed team that is exceptional at home agaisnt other good to great teams. Because of that, and the strength of the Big Ten, it is not time to panic yet.
If Purdue does lose a home game, however, it will be time to panic.