There’s a saying in sports “every win is beautiful”. You’ll see that expression come up after your team wins a game that you’d like to forget for one reason or another. Maybe there was a late game collapse, maybe shots weren’t falling, maybe you got bailed out by the officials. Whatever the reason, a win is a win and they are all beautiful. Not every win is pretty though. And the 2022-2023 Big Ten season for Purdue men’s basketball is a prime example of this.
Walking away with an outright Big Ten title is not something that is easy. Purdue now has 25 Big Ten championships with 13 of them being outright and 12 of them being shared. So, Purdue now has not only the most conference titles they are also tied with IU and Ohio State for the most outright titles. An incredible accomplishment.
Purdue started the conference season with an easy victory over who would turn out to be the worst team in the conference, despite yesterday’s upset victory over Rutgers, at home against Minnesota. After all the hoopla of the early season tournaments most assumed that this would be a roll, and it was. Next however came a matchup with a Nebraska team that has given a lot of folks trouble this year. It took overtime to get by the Cornhuskers and move Purdue to 2-0 in conference play. This was possibly the first sign that not all was as it seemed for the Boilermakers.
Purdue returned to conference play after the holiday break and faced their nemesis Rutgers. Purdue was ranked #1 at the time for the second straight season. And for the second straight season a Rutgers team took down the #1 ranked Boilermakers. It was a tough pill to swallow. This Rutgers loss seemed to awaked something in this Purdue team though as they would rattle off 9 straight conference wins after this. That included tough wins on the road at a (pre-collapse) Ohio State, at a jam packed Palestra against a much improved Penn State, a one point victory in East Lansing against the Spartans, and a five point victory over Hunter Dickinson and the Wolverines. That 9 game stretch also saw home victories over Maryland, Michigan State, and Penn State. It was this 9-0 stretch which basically won the conference for Purdue. Some of those wins were incredibly tough especially the one point victory over Michigan State in which Tyson Walker hit a go ahead shot with just 12 seconds left. Purdue went to their (future) All-American Zach Edey who delivered a bucket with just :03 to play. That’s another victory that wasn’t pretty but the final score sure was beautiful.
After the 9-0 stretch things got dicey. Purdue headed on the road to Assembly Hall to face a ranked IU team who was beginning to find themselves. As much as we hate to admit it TJD and JHS were looking like All Big Ten players and maybe even player of the year type players during this stretch. Playing at Assembly is never an easy place to play and IU came out and punched Purdue in the mouth. Despite a hard fought comeback in the second half Purdue never was able to take the lead and fell to the Hoosiers. Purdue’s players were surrounded as the Hoosier students rushed the court. This would become a common theme.
All was not lost though as Purdue returned home to the friendly confines of Mackey Arena and took down an Iowa team who tried their best to press Purdue into oblivion. Trips to Northwestern and Maryland resulted in some, ahem, rough and tumble basketball that saw Purdue lose back to back games for the first time all season. In the case of Northwestern it sure seemed like Purdue was just out-toughed. Yes, I know we can talk about the officials here but ultimately the game was called how it was called and Northwestern took advantage. The same at Maryland. Another game that featured some rather physical basketball. Purdue lost both games and our Boilermakers stood and watched as the fans stormed the court for the second and third times this season. Things were starting to look bleak. Some people wavered on if this team could hang on, but not me.
A get right game against an Ohio State team that had gone completely off the rails was next and Purdue took full advantage. A home game against IU was next and it gave Purdue an opportunity that seemed too good to be true. Purdue needed just one victory to clinch a share of the Big Ten title and their rival was coming into their arena after already having defeated them once this year. This game had everything, revenge, title implications, and good old fashioned sports hatred. Unfortunately for Purdue fans, it was more of the same against the Hoosiers this season. Despite shutting down TJD Purdue wasn’t able to overcome the skill of super-freshman JHS who schooled Purdue on the offensive end. The chance to clinch was gone.
However, thanks to Maryland taking down Northwestern the very next day Purdue was still guaranteed no worse than a share of the title with two games to play. Purdue would have a chance to clinch an outright title in their next game against Wisconsin. There was an outside chance that Purdue could clinch before that but it would have to be a Mr. Burns baseball ringers level of misfortunes to Purdue’s fellow Big Ten teams and I’d like to see that. Somehow though, that’s exactly what happened. IU lost to Iowa. Maryland lost to Ohio State. Northwestern lost to Penn State. Michigan lost to Illinois. Short of the Michigan vs. Illinois game going into double overtime the rest of these games happened before Purdue had played a game. That means Purdue lost to IU on February 25th and had not clinched anything, did nothing, and then went to Wisconsin Big Ten Champs and midway through the first half became outright Big Ten Champs. Incredible streak of lucky outcomes there for the Boilermakers.
There’s still one conference game left in the season but at worst Purdue will walk away with a two game lead over the second place team, whoever that winds up being. In a season when Purdue was picked to finish in the middle of the pack it’s incredible what this team has accomplished. Last night’s win against Wisconsin wasn’t pretty. Purdue’s three point shooting percentage, somewhere around 236 in the nation right now, isn’t pretty. But you know what is both pretty and beautiful? This: