Purdue bounced back after a loss to Indiana on Thursday, cruising to an 80-60 win over Northwestern on Sunday afternoon in Mackey Arena.
This was a game the Boilermakers needed to come out and play well today to get the bad taste out of their mouth from Thursday. Northwestern, albeit their record is bad, has been playing quite well as of late. Not only did they win in East Lansing, but they also played the likes of Ohio State, Wisconsin, and others to very close games during Big Ten play.
If the Boilermakers didn’t come out playing smart and hard, this would be a game that could’ve slipped away. At the beginning of the game, Purdue came out sloppy with three turnovers in the first two minutes of the game, which seemed like it was creeping into today from last time out.
On Thursday, the main issue for the Boilermakers was both turnovers and free throw shooting when it mattered. As I said, there were a few instances of Purdue coughing it up to begin the game, but they improved a bit as the game went on. Finishing with 9 turnovers isn’t the most ideal number, but it is one you can deal with, especially since they weren’t in high-pressure moments.
Free throw shooting hadn’t been a huge issue so far this season, but a 7-17 clip from the charity stripe proved to be detrimental against Indiana. They were able to clean that up this afternoon, going 10-13 from the line, but Zach Edey continued his struggles there which could leave valuable points on the board in more tightly contested matchups.
Although it wasn’t a perfect game, it was clear that Matt Painter got the two main issues from a loss relatively cleaned up for this game.
Once Purdue got settled into the game, it was more or less a one-sided affair on Keady Court. With Jaden Ivey unable to play due to a hip injury, some guys that had been quiet of late stepped up to help carry the load. It was a very good team effort as Sasha Stefanovic led the way, but the scoring was balanced all the way around.
The aforementioned Stefanovic scored a game-high 22 points for the Boilermakers on an efficient 6-10 shooting from three-point range. He was going to be the main backcourt player for Purdue to be asked more of in the absence of Ivey and came up big time in the win.
Eric Hunter Jr. and Isaiah Thompson both had much-needed games, specifically in the second half to help the Boilermakers coast to victory. The point guard duo combined for 18 points and each had a pair of three-point field goals as well.
We’ve seen Hunter Jr. come alive recently, to the joy of Purdue fans that had been frustrated by his play during the first half of the season. The senior guard finished with 10 points on 4/5 shooting and 5 assists today. Hunter also made a few good plays when Purdue needed them, which is key for how this team is built. Sometimes the Boilers are left without someone who can come up with a big bucket, steal, etc in crunch time. Hunter did that both today and in the Illinois game on Monday.
That is exactly what Matt Painter needs out of either him or Thompson on a nightly basis to help take the pressure off of guys like Ivey, Edey, and Williams.
Speaking of the big men for the Boilers, they had very solid performances in their own right. Edey and Williams posted a combined line of 24 points on 11-20 shooting from the field and 20 rebounds as well. Although their stat sheets looked good, you could tell they were a little uncomfortable at times throughout the game. That shouldn’t be a concern for Purdue though, as those two have proved they are at the top of the conference in terms of post play.
Northwestern was able to put up 60 points today, under their conference play average of 74 a contest, mostly in part to Purdue’s great defensive play today. They honestly shouldn’t have even scored that much. Boo Buie had a stretch of hitting three straight from beyond the arc that Purdue couldn’t do much about. and then they had several threes go in at the end of the shot clock after the Boilermakers played 28 seconds of great defense. Purdue fans have seen that in the losses (Phinisee, Davis, and Harper Jr.), but sometimes that is how it goes when you are playing in the Big Ten.
Up next for Purdue is a rematch against the Iowa Hawkeyes, whom the Boilermakers beat in early December to reach No. 1 in the AP Poll for the first time in school history. This was the first game that saw Purdue struggle down the stretch thanks to the Iowa press defense and costly turnovers. It is a no-brainer that Fran McCaffery and their coaching staff will attempt to use that same game plan, but earlier in this one. That game will be on Thursday, January 27th at 9:00 p.m. from Carver-Hawkeye Arena.