Purdue built a halftime lead and then weathered numerous Rutgers runs to pull out a 68-60 road victory. Zach Edey led the way with 26 and 12 on 9-12 shooting. He was joined in double figures by Braden Smith, who broke out of his shooting slump to add 19 crucial points to the Boilermakers total, including a 3-5 performance from deep. Lance Jones couldn’t buy a bucket, shooting 1-10 from the floor (0-6 from 3) on his way to 4 points but did everything else at an elite level contributing 10 rebounds, 8 assists, and 5 steals. Rutgers was led by Aundre Hyatt’s 15 points on 5-12 shooting. Cliff Omoruyi provided 13 points and battled Zach Edey all game, but in the end, they simply couldn’t score enough to knock of Matt Painters squad.
The first half looked like every other Purdue trip to New Jersey. Rutgers played with incredible energy and the refs rewarded them with a gentle whistle. Cliff Omoruyi’s defense gave Zach Edey issues, pushing him away from the basket and making the big man take some uncharacteristic forced shots. My expectations are so high with Zach I’m complaining about a 4-7, 10 point half.
Last season, Zach struggling meant Purdue was struggling. This season there are other options to pick up the slack. Braden Smith finally shook off his shooting woes, and put up 9 points on 3-4 shooting, including a 3. Meanwhile Lance Jones was held scoreless, but led Purdue at the half with 5 assists. Mason Gillis once again showed his ability to heat up quickly, pouring in 8 off the bench on short order, going 3-3 from the floor, including 2-2 from deep.
Meanwhile Rutgers offense was putrid in the first half. They went 0-8 from 3, and 9-34 overall. The level of difficulty required for them to score in the half court was an 8.5. Purdue was willing to let Rutgers run their contested fade-away mid-range jumper offense, and deal with the consequences. I’m not sure any of their offensive sets successfully achieved the end goal shot.
Despite their offensive ineptitude, the Scarlet Knights managed to keep the game within view by crashing the offensive glass and dragging the muck with them. Say what you will about their skill level, you won’t find a team that plays harder than Rutgers at home. That was on full display as they turned the basket area into a Fugazi style mosh pit and ripped down offensive boards. They managed 10 offensive rebounds, scoring half their 20 points on put backs.
Turnovers were also an issue for both teams in the first half. Purdue committed a few uncharacteristic, unforced turnovers on their way to 8 turnovers. Rutgers didn’t covet the possession of the basketball either, turning it over 7 times, including a couple straight steals I haven’t seen church league rec ball. You don’t usually see college guards getting stripped clean, but Purdue straight up robbed the Rutgers guards on multiple occasions.
Despite the ugly play, Purdue used a couple runs of decent play to build a double digit lead, holding the Scarlet Knights at arms length, taking a 33-20 lead into the break.
The second half started much like the first half, with Purdue hitting enough shots to maintain a double digit league, without playing particularly well. Then Rutgers hit their run around the 15 minute mark. First Gavin Griffiths came off the bench and drilled a 3, followed by a Braden Smith turnover, and a subsequent Cliff Omoruyi layup. That sequence ignited the Scarlet Knights who poured in 6 of the next 8 points on their way to a 14-3 run. Cutting the lead to 46-43 after an Aundre Hyatt and one in transition.
The game went back and forth from that point. Purdue would go on a 5 or 6 point run to push out the lead and then Rutgers would claw their way back into the game. The team that hasn’t been able to shoot straight all season finally found their stroke from outside. A Noah Fernandes 3 (29% on the season) at the 8:12 mark cut the lead 50-48 before a Zach Edey and one and then another 2-2 trip from the foul line stretched the lead to 55-48.
Over the next 3 minutes, Rutgers chipped into the lead, cutting the score 57-54 after Omoruyi split a two shot foul. Once again though, Rutgers cut the lead and Purdue responded. This time Fletcher Loyer delivered 3 from the line after getting fouled on a 3 point attempt, giving Purdue a 60-54 lead with 3:27 left.
Purdue put on yet another mini-run to push the lead back out to 64-53, but the RAC refused to let Rutgers go away, willing another Hyatt 3 to drop, cutting the lead back to 6. Purdue didn’t cover themselves in glory down the stretch, with Zach Edey missing a pair from the line and Ethan Morton fouling Aundre Hyatt on a 3 attempt with 37 seconds remaining, but the Boilermakers did what good teams do and put the final dagger in the game with 2 Fletcher Loyer free throws and a defensive stop to close out the proceedings.
This game won’t be archived in the College Basketball Hall of Fame as a representative example of the sport, but it’s the type of game Purdue needs to prove it can win. Rutgers drug the Boilermakers into their game. They disrupted Purdue’s offense with junk defenses and 3 1⁄4 court zone press that further slowed the game down and led to a couple of Purdue turnovers (granted one was a terrible call on an over and back call where Lance Jones never brought the ball into the front court).
George Bernard Shaw famously said, “Never wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.”
Purdue played in the muck today in New Jersey and still managed to take home a win. Rutgers got the game it wanted from the refs, Purdue was sloppy with the basketball, they killed the Boilermakers on the offensive glass, and an unknown dude off the bench caught fire and they still couldn’t knock off the Boilermakers.
Purdue wrestled the pig today. Tonight we’re having pork chops.