This game really was a critically important win for Matt Painter and Purdue. Even though it is just #5 on the list, I kind of feel like so much doesn’t happen if Purdue doesn’t win in Madison in 2019. Obviously, since there was a tie for the Big Ten with Michigan State, Purdue doesn’t win its 24th Big Ten title without this win. I don’t know if we even make the tournament without this win because of how much it turned things around, let alone make a run to the Elite 8.
Purdue 84, Wisconsin 80 (OT) – January 12, 2019 – at Wisconsin
Neither team was ranked at the time of this game, but that means nothing because of how tough Wisconsin is at home. Purdue is one of the few teams to play the Badgers consistently tough in Madison since the Kohl Center opened. This year’s narrow loss made Purdue 5-13 at the Kohl Center, but the five wins are significant in a place where Wisconsin always fiercely defends its home court, especially when several Big Ten teams have NEVER won in the Kohl Center (looking at you, Indiana). Many of those losses have been very close, too, like this season.
Purdue entered the game in a very tenuous position. After the 6-5 start to the season with losses to Michigan, Texas, Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Notre Dame I had my doubts we would even make the NCAA Tournament. We didn’t have a bad loss, but our best non-conference win was Belmont (who did at least earn an at large bid). Purdue did get to 9-6 overall by beating Ohio, Belmont, and Iowa, but three days before going to Madison the Boilers dropped a 77-59 decision in East Lansing to #6 Michigan State and looked kind of listless. At 2-2 in the conference there were no thoughts of a Big Ten title. Just surviving the conference schedule and sneaking into March seemed tough.
This was a good, but not great Wisconsin team. They had lost at home to Virginia 53-46 and at Marquette 74-69 in overtime. They also had an unexpected loss at Western Kentucky 83-76 and a home loss to Minnesota 59-52. They were decent, but not the juggernaut they have often been in the past two decades. It felt like a game Purdue could get and needed to get to revive the NCAA hopes.
This is not remembered as one of the classic Carsen Edwards games despite his 36 points because it came on 26 shot attempts and 14 three-point attempts, but Carsen still had a large role in this. Carsen, Ryan Cline, and Grady Eifert all hit threes to give Purdue an 11-6 lead before the first media timeout. Another Carsen three with 11:40 left in the half pushed the lead to double digits at 20-10.
After leading 27-16 with 8:16 left in the half on a Matt Haarms basket Wisconsin made a late first half run, however. They tied it at 28-28 with 4:14 left in the half on a pair of D’Mitrik Trice free throws. The run would eventually reach 15-1 when Ethan Happ made it 32-28 Wisconsin with 2:47 left in the half. Nojel Eastern finally provided and answer with five straight points and Purdue held a narrow 37-36 lead at the half.
As often happens in Big Ten play, the second half was a tight affair that went back and forth. Brad Davison and Ryan Cline started trading threes, with Carsen Edwards and Aleem Ford hitting a few as well. Neither team could get much separation until a Cline three with 4:51 left put Purdue in front 67-60.
Once again, the Badgers would answer. Khalil Iverson and Happ each had baskets before Davison tied it at 67-67 with 2:23 left with a three. That forced a timeout, and Carsen came out of it by drawing a foul and hitting both free throws with 2:11 left. With 1:59 left Purdue sent Happ, a notoriously bad free throw shooter, to the line and he hit one of two. Neither team scored on their next possessions, but with 45 seconds left Carsen hit a huge three to put Purdue up 72-68.
Unfortuantely, Trice, who finished with 17 points, wasn’t done. He cut the lead to one with a three with 21 seconds left. Carsen was fouled on the inbounds and hit both to make it 74-71. In an event that foreshadowed the end to the season, Purdue chose not to foul up three on Wisconsin’s possession, and Trice hit a three with 14 seconds left. Carsen missed a three at the buzzer and we were headed to overtime.
The overtime period was about as tense as you can get. It would stay at 77-77 for several possessions before Happ gave the Badgers a two-point lead with 2:06 left. Carsen was fouled with 1:41 left, but only hit one of two. The Boilers desperately needed a defensive stop and got it when Cline got a steal and was fouled with 1:18 left. In another foreshadowing event, Cline hit just one of two to tie.
He made up for it on the following possession by getting another steal with 55 seconds left. Purdue called a timeout and got the ball to Eifert, who was fouled on the drive. With the game tied at 79 the senior had ice water in his veins. He splashed both free throws with 38 seconds left to make it 81-79.
Now it was time for Purdue’s defense again. Trice missed a layup with 24 seconds left and Eastern got the rebound. The Boilers were able to run a critical 9 seconds off the clock before Cline was fouled with 15 left. He again only hit one of two to make it 82-79, but this time Purdue did foul up three. Eastern sent Trice to the line where he hit the first and missed the second. Carsen was there to get the rebound and with 8 seconds left he hit both to ice the game.
Given the end game situations of both regulation and overtime it is amazing how much this game foreshadowed the Virginia game. Twice Purdue had the “up three on defense in the closing seconds” scenario. In regulation they didn’t foul and Trice tied it with 14 seconds left. Granted, 14 seconds might be a little early to foul, but it was a lot like the Tennessee game in the Bahamas the year before. Presented with the exact same situation in overtime Purdue elected to foul and it worked out. Purdue got the rebound of the missed second FT and won.
This was also a true team win as even though Carsen finished with 36 as he didn’t particularly shoot well going 10 of 26 from the floor, 6 of 14 from three, and 10 of 14 at the line. He had a lot of help though as Cline hit four threes and finished with 14. Eastern finished with 10 points and 9 rebounds in honestly one of his most complete games. Trevion Williams had only 9 points, but 11 rebounds, 7 of which were on the offensive glass. Grady also had 9. Purdue had absolutely no answer for Happ, who was 14 of 17 for 31 points, but he was 3 of 6 from the line and missed a big late free throw.
I think this win was the biggest of last season. Purdue came in at 9-6 and with a loss, might have struggled to make the tournament. This was the game where it all came together and we discovered that we didn’t have to have Carsen do everything. He could have a big night AND get contributions from elsewhere. It was the first of eight consecutive wins that propelled Purdue back into the top 25 and back to the top of the Big Ten. There would be a similar win at Penn State, where the Nittany Lions took us to overtime before Purdue won 99-90 behind 38 from Carsen and 20 from Cline. Purdue also got a 10-point home win over top 10 Michigan State in Mackey, an always important win over Indiana where Nojel put Romeo Langford in a box for two hours, and a tough win at Ohio State.
The winning streak was broken in a 14 point loss at Maryland, but the Boilers followed with five more in a row, two of which came in gritty wins at Indiana and Nebraska. The Boilers would eventually tie Michigan State for the Big Ten title at 16-4 with a final day win at Northwestern, and it was perhaps the most satisfying Big Ten title in program history. The 2018 team was supposed to get title #24, but came up just short. Before the Wisconsin game there seemed to be no chance at winning the title, but the run of 14 wins in the final 16 games because of this win at Wisconsin produced a surprise championship, and a deeply satisfying one.
Seeing Cline and Eifert hoisting the trophy in the hallway at Northwestern, then bringing it out for the Purdue fans in attendance was one of the happiest moments of my Purdue fandom. This game also helped spur the magical run in the NCAAs, even if the endgame against Virginia didn’t play out the same. I think it is pretty safe to say that none of the following two months happens if Purdue doesn’t pull this game out in Madison. If none of that happens, how do we feel about Matt Painter right now if he lost the final season of Carsen and then missed the tourney this year? How does it affect recruiting of Jaden Ivey, Caleb Furst, and Ethan Morton?
Yeah, this was a big one.