Eric Hunter Jr. struggles continued. The junior couldn’t make a shot - went 1-7 this time - and he had the ball in his hands with a chance with redemption. He dribbled. He dribbled again. He was in trouble and a double team, and then he was at the baseline, maybe getting shoved, but definitely throwing the ball... right into the hands of Michigan St. A chance for a tie or a win seemed to fly out of his hand with it.
But redemption would be his. After Trevion Williams pulled the game back to 2 from the line, Purdue went into their press with the desperation that they needed to force a turnover to have any chance.
That’s when Eric Hunter Jr. stuck with Rocket Watts up the right sideline, to near the corner where Watts extended for the inbounds, but Hunter was all over him and quicker. He forced Watt off balance who crumped to the ground, ball deflected by Hunter, but last by Watt.
With 13:17 left on the clock, Purdue watched their 8-7 lead fade away. Michigan St., the home team, led the rest of the game until just most than four seconds were on the clock.
Purdue, mounting a furious late comeback, would win the game 55-54 on a beautiful in-bounds play that got Trevion Williams a semi-contested floater from five feet out that went up and then dropped through the neck for Purdue’s first win against a ranked team this season.
This play was brought to you by a Trevion Williams missed free throw that would have tied the game on the same possession. But off the miss, 7’4” Zach Edey - put in for just this purpose - wreaked havoc by reaching above the swarm of Spartans and knocked the ball forward where the ball would be corralled by multiple hands, most importantly Mason Gillis’s after the freshman dove without concern for his body. Tied up. Jump ball. Possession arrow Purdue.
Purdue’s comeback came after a half where they played valiant defense early, but couldn’t do anything on offense. They went into the half trailing 31-16. They looked like the younger team. They looked liked the less athletic team. They looked like they weren’t even going to put up a fight on the road.
And then they started to fight, but more importantly, they started to force feed their interior presence and, quickly becoming, leader, Trevion Williams.
Williams was the only Boilermaker to score in double-digits. On a night where their jump shots abandoned them again, going 3-24 for the game, a marked improvement after missing all 12 of their first half attempts, it was their big man inside that gave them a chance, and then hope, and finally a win.
He was simply terrific, bullying inside, showing touch, and looking very much like he still remembered how to dominate the paint in Michigan. He scored 26 points while being incredibly efficient, he made 9 of 14 shots, and improved on his sub 50% free throw rate by going 8 of 12 from the line. His 9 rebounds led the team and he avoided foul trouble in the second half after picking up two in the first half.
It was Purdue’s best defensive performance from start to finish. Aaron Henry and Joshua Langford were the only Spartans in double figures, and Purdue held them to 23 points and a combined 7-19 shooting.
The Spartans were just 2 of 13 from three and Purdue held them to 23 points in the second half.
Most importantly, Purdue didn’t give up easy baskets off of turnover. They actually outscored the Spartans 11-10 with points off turnover, a huge step in the right direction for a team that has consistently struck themselves in the foot with bad turnovers.
Purdue also helped themselves with the offensive glass, grabbing 16 while limiting the Spartans to just 7. This edge, especially late, including the game winning possession, is the only reason Purdue was able to come back on a night where they weren’t making shots outside of the paint.
This win could not have come at a better time for Purdue. They were a team that needed to see something good happen on the court and they needed a win. They now move to 8-5 and look to take on their in-state rival Indiana next Thursday.