I am probably going to look like a jackass for writing this by Tuesday night if Penn State comes into West Lafayette and wins, but for now I am enjoying the turnaround.
One week ago, almost at this exact moment, Purdue was dead. The 2019-20 season was pretty much over. The Boilers trailed 58-50 at Northwestern and the Wildcats had the basketball with 3 minutes left. A loss to the last place Wildcats would have been a devastating blow to a season that had so much promise when it began. It would have dropped Purdue to 11-11 on the season, but a critical 1-2 against the only two teams in the Big Ten with virtually no NCAA chances. Since a brutal nine games followed, all against teams much, much better than Northwestern, the season would have likely been over.
What a difference a week makes.
First, Purdue scored the final 11 points in Evanston. I am surprised that the Evanston police didn’t arrest Sasha Stefanovic as he left the arena, because we absolutely stole a victory. then Wednesday night Purdue came home and absolutely crushed Iowa with its best offensive performance of the season. Today Purdue, a team that has struggled big time on the road all season, walked into the most hostile environment it will face all year against a crowd hyped to welcome home its hero for the first time in 20 years and won going away, never letting the lead get under 6 the entire second half.
The 12-point win was Purdue’s largest margin in Bloomington in 43 years. Tommy Luce goes down as the first four-year Purdue player to never lose in Bloomington. The Boilers also got their first ever four-game winning streak in Assembly Hall. At around 11pm ET last Saturday Purdue was dead. Now it has three wins, two away from home, and it has dealt a crippling blow to its bitter rival’s NCAA hopes on a day that was a huge celebration for their program.
It is coming together right now for the Boilers. Finally. When you look at the box score Purdue won in the exact way it needs to play in order to win. We don't have the luxury of Carsen Edwards going nuts for 40 in any given game this year. We had Trevion Williams with a monster game at Michigan, but for the most part we have had to get it done by having seven or eight guys all contribute to the box score almost equally. Today, that happened:
Eric Hunter Jr. - He had a 12-5-2 and set the tone with two early threes. Purdue fell behind 5-0 and it looked like another slow start was in order, but those two early threes calmed things down.
Aaron Wheeler - The last two games have been HUGE for Wheeler. Today he was 4-for-4 from the floor with 3 threes. Not only did he have 11 points, but his back-to-back threes late in the first game changed the entire timbre of the game. The first tied the game at 3:33 after Trayce Jackson-Davis hit a pair of free throws and Indiana had momentum with a three-point lead. The second came 41 seconds later and gave Purdue the lead for good. Purdue was down 28-25 before that first three, but it started a 14-0 run that concluded with the opening basket of the second half by Nojel Eastern.
Matt Haarms - The big man had only 8 points and 3 rebounds, but as coach Painter often says: It’s sometimes not how much you score, but when you score. With just over 8 minutes left Indiana had cut Purdue’s lead from 16 to 6 and the crowd was rocking. The Hoosiers needed a stop, and another basket would have really blown the roof off. With exactly 8 minutes left Haarms scored and was fouled by Justin Smith. He buried the free throw on the other side of the media timeout, then hit a jumper on the next possession. That was a six point lead back to 11 in 53 seconds, and Purdue would add four more to it to send people to the exits early. This marks two years in a row now where Haarms has faced Assembly Hall at its loudest and has told everyone to shut up and go home. What’s he going to do next year?
Evan Boudreaux - Five points, four rebounds, and more grit than P40 sandpaper. His exclamation point dunk in the final minute needs to go on the Mt. Rushmore of monster Purdue dunks in Assembly Hall along with Jon Octeus and Carsen, just because it is hilarious to have a 6’8” gawky white grad transfer from Dartmouth throwing down exclamation point dunks.
Sasha Stefanovic - 10 points, 4 rebounds, a steady presence at the line, and a big three. Sasha started this whole thing with his game-winner in Evanston. When he can open things up from outside Purdue is suddenly so dangerous.
Nojel Eastern - 8 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds, and 4 of 6 at the line to go with lockdown defense? I will take that any game, Nojel.
Isaiah Thompson - 8 points off the bench, and his biggest bucket was probably scoring off of an offensive rebound of his own shot late in the first half. It was only his fourth offensive rebound of the season.
Jahaad Proctor - Six big points off the bench after a solid game against Iowa. Nice to see him coming back around.
Trevion Williams - Only five points and four rebounds, but he had no fouls and generally made life difficult in the paint for Indiana.
No Purdue player that played had more than 12 or less than 5 points. That’s nine guys, all contributing in almost every way. They were fearless too.
I have said for a while that there was no way we were going to win in Bloomington. We’ve been so bad on the road this season that I just didn’t believe it was going to happen. I have never been happier to be wrong. Maybe now, finally, this team is turning a corner. The last two games (plus the final three minutes in Evanston) have been a “Where the hell has that been all season” type of run. It is frustrating too because of how wide open the Big Ten is right now. Purdue is a layup at Michigan, a terrible night at bad Nebraska, and a painfully slow start at Maryland from being on top of the league right now. The Purdue of the last week probably doesn’t win either Illinois game, but it absolutely wins at Nebraska, Maryland, or Rutgers.
It looks like it is coming together now (I hope). Just how far can it go? With a nice road win (even if Indiana fades as they seem to be doing it is a very good win) it means an NCAA Tournament berth is extremely likely if we hold serve at home. If Purdue does just that it will be 11-9 in conference play, and the Big Ten is so strong this year that 11-9 would be more than enough to get in. What about more? Can it hold serve at home and win at a mercurial Ohio State, or against Wisconsin and Iowa, whom it has already beaten by a combined 734 points? What if we somehow stay hot and get to 14-6? Would a piece of the title possibly be there? How about going into the NCAAs as a dangerous 6 or 7 seed, where a 1 seed is safely on the other side of the bracket and we can cause some damage? I have joked that Juan’s final piece for SB Nation will be him covering our West Regional Championship from the Staples Center, but why not dream?
Of course that is all a dream for now, but after three straight wins that have turned everything around it is nice just to be able to dream again. There is still work to do to be sure, but after the last week there is a little less work to be done.
The fact that we got to wreck Indiana’s season in the process is just a nice little bonus.