The next five games could be a make-or-break stretch for a young Purdue team. After getting a pair of good home wins to start Big Ten play and having a far-from-bad loss at Iowa Purdue goes on the road for four of the next five games. To make matters worse, three of those games are against teams in the top 25 and the fourth is a road trip to bitter rival Indiana. The middle game, and only home game, is again Nebraska, which might be one of the few relative breathers in this year’s Big Ten, but I remember what happened last year in Lincoln. Nothing can be taken for granted.
Going 0-5 in this stretch would be disastrous. Going 1-4, only beating Nebraska, would be bad. At some point we have to prove we can win on the road. Athletically, Rutgers had their way with Purdue a little bit last year. They won by 7 in Piscataway and on senior day, when Purdue absolutely needed a win for NCAA tournament considerations, they won in overtime because we could not stop their guards. This year they are even better.
From: Piscataway, NJ
Date: Tuesday, December 29, 2020
Tip Time: 7 p.m. ET
Location: Piscataway, NJ
Arena: Rutgers Athletic Center (8,000)
Television: Fox Sports 1
Radio: Purdue Radio Network
SiriusXM Satellite: XM (Ch. 381); Internet (Ch. 968)
Live Stats: bit.ly/PurdueLiveStats
2019-20 Record: 19-11, 11-9 Big Ten
2020-21 Record: 6-1, 1-1 Big Ten
Opponent Blog: On the Banks
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 12-3
Last Rutgers Win: 71-68 (OT) at Purdue on 3/7/2020
Last Purdue Win: 89-54 at Purdue on 1.15.2029
NCAA Tournament History: 6 appearances, last in 1991. Reached 1976 Final Four
Coach: Steve Pikiell (70-65 in 5th season at Rutgers, 267-241 overall)
For eight months we had to sit on that Rutgers loss in Mackey as our last game since the Big Ten Tournament was cancelled. Eric Hunter Jr. had a chance to win the game at the free throw line in regulation with a second left, but couldn’t convert. Then Purdue could not stop Geo Baker and Ron Harper Jr. At the time it looked like it clinched Rutgers’ first NCAA Tournament in 29 years and knocked Purdue out. Then everything went to hell four days later.
This week we get a rematch, and Rutgers is even better. First, they have Harper and Baker back. Harper has been great, averaging 23.4 points per game with 7.1 rebounds. In a non-Luka Garza year that would be good enough for Big Ten Player of the Year. He is also hooting 50% (25 of 50) from three. The Scarlet Knights have only shot 129 threes, so Harper by far is their biggest outside threat.
Baker is still rounding into form. He has only played four games due to an early ankle sprain and is averaging just 7.3 per game, but he is a senior that has been in double figures for his entire career. He has a huge game in him coming. He was 8 of 14 for 19 points against us last season.
Rutgers has two more guards playing extremely well though. Jacob Young (15.9 ppg) and Montez Harris (14.3 ppg). Young has been an excellent facilitator at 5.6 assists per game. He also leads the league in steals. That is second in the Big Ten.
Myles Johnson has been solid in the middle too. The 6’11” center is second in the league at 2.4 blocks per game. It is a concern for us that Rutgers has one of the best interior defenders in the conference and the best perimeter defender. They are still only 9th defensively, giving up 70.1 points per game, but they are scoring 80.6.
Purdue’s defense has been solid statistically, at least. We’re giving up 66 per game and we have done the best job of anyone when it comes to slowing down Iowa. Our problem has been absolutely awful shooting on the road. Purdue’s defense was good enough to win at Iowa, but the offense scored just 54 points. The second half collapse at Miami is also fresh in our minds. Purdue shot just 35% at Miami and 16% from three. It was 39.7% at Iowa and 32% from three.
By comparison, Purdue worst home game was Valparaiso at 35% and 36%, but they have been much better in other games. Even the three neutral site games so far Purdue has been decent.
It is hard to figure why Purdue is not shooting well in road games this year when there are no fans. We have to keep Zach Edey and Trevion Williams out of foul trouble and find a way to hit the open threes we get. Brandon Newman and Jaden Ivey are coming off of a game where they kind of saved Purdue, so they need to stay hot. Getting Sasha Stefanovic to hit some threes away from Mackey Arena would be great, too.