The Purdue Boilermakers survived a bit of a malaise in both the first and second halves that allowed the Illinois Fighting Illini to remain in a game that, in all respects, they didn’t deserve to be in. After pushing their lead to 16 in the first half and allowing it to drop back to 3, the Boilers pushed their lead to 15 at half. That lead eventually peaked at 21 before Zach Edey was again forced to the bench and the Illini battled back to within 3 with under 15 seconds left in the game.
The Boilers were led by Trey Kaufman-Renn’s 23 points and 4 rebounds but Zach Edey’s limited time on the court still produced 10 points, 15 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 blocks in 23 minutes. Purdue also got a very strong game from Lance Jones who scored a season high of 17 points along with Braden Smith’s 14 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, but had 4 turnovers in the second half.
Let’s get into ‘The Three Pointer!’
1 | Take the Emotion Away from Illinois
Head Coach Matt Painter has preached for years the importance of the first five minutes of each half and Purdue is one of the best in the country at scoring the ball in that regard. Against the Illini, the Boilers were also incredibly strong defensively in that regard as well as the Boilers outscored the Illini 15-4 in the first half and 13-9 in the second half. That means in that ten minute stretch of the game, the Boilers outscored Illinois 28-13. That timeframe has been one of the strongest keys for Purdue this season.
Had Edey not been in foul trouble for long stretches in both halves that occurred just as the big man was getting his engine revved up, he had to go to the bench. That was especially true in the second half as Zach Edey was forced to the bench at the 8:01 mark of the second half as the Illini scored 26 points in that final 8 minutes of the game while Purdue struggled to just 13 points.
In that final 8:00 minutes, Purdue just couldn’t get themselves unstuck like they did when they were in a similar situation in the first half. Due to that, the Illini were able to claw their way back into the game and really get their confidence behind their play for the first time all game.
Generally speaking, this was something the Boilers did really, really well. The issue is that, no matter who Purdue plays, they can’t allow big runs and the Illini getting an 8-0 over the course of the last 3 minutes of the game before Braden Smith sealed the game with under 10 seconds left just can’t happen.
2 | Limit the Turnovers, Especially the Bad Ones
Purdue was absolutely stellar in the first half at not turning the ball over as the Boilers only had 4 with Braden Smith having 0. In the second half though, the Boilers would turn the ball over 8 times with the Illini converting those into 11 points. Overall, you can live with those numbers but the bad turnovers seemed to really start to happen when it seemed Purdue started pressing more and more at the end of the game in the midst of Illinois’ run.
Most notably, Braden Smith reverted a bit back to his freshman year where he would leave his feet and be forced into bad passes that would turn to turnovers. He had done a really good job of not doing that and keeping his dribble or coming to a jump stop and using a pivot to find an open teammate. For whatever reason though, over the last two games, Smith has started to leave his feet again and Coach Painter brought that up in his post game presser. Still, Coach Painter had high praise for the player who may be asked to do more than any other player on the squad.
@CoachPainter with high praise for @3bradensmith and some of his growth from last year to this year.— Jed Wilkinson (@PurdueWilkie) January 6, 2024
'He needs a bit more of a break but sometimes we don't have time for that break. He's great. I wouldn't trade him for anybody in the country.' pic.twitter.com/ng3fKLKhIM
The first half was an absolute master class and deserves an A+ but the Boilers get downgraded to a B because of the turnover ‘issues’ in the second half. Again, Purdue can live with 12 turnovers but can’t afford to have turnovers that extend runs for opponents and extend scoring droughts of their own.
3 | Don’t Let Marcus Domask Isolate Purdue Defenders That Aren’t Lance Jones, Ethan Morton, or Myles Colvin
This one won’t get much of an explanation but Purdue did a great job of not allowing Domask to do this exact part of the Illini strategy until late in the second half once Edey got his fourth foul. That fourth foul forced Purdue to alter the way they wanted to defend and Domask and the Illini took advantage as the big guard was able to bully his way into the lane in isolation without help against not only Loyer but Jones also Jones and Loyer. Domask scored 12 of his 26 points in that final 8:00 minutes of the game after Edey picked up his fourth foul.
Again, this was an A and masterclass in forcing your opponent out of what they likely wanted to do because of the way the Boilers had played defense most of the game. In the end, it has to be downgraded because allowing a player to almost single handily beat you in the final 8 minutes of the game when up 16 before that run started isn’t great.
And 1 | Get Coleman Hawkins in Foul Trouble
This just didn’t happen as Hawkins got pretty conservative on defense once he picked up his second foul but he sure could have been given multiple technical fouls for his antics towards the refs when he was called for a foul or a play went against him. The expressions and antics after he bulldozed over Lance Jones before the half was bad enough but the whining and jumping around like a child who had their lollipop taken away should have been met with a technical foul. The unfortunate aspect is that type of character typically bleeds their way into others and that’s sort of seen in guys like Luke Goode and Dravyn Gibbs-Lawhorn.
Purdue should have gone more to Edey with Hawkins playing a lot more conservative but Edey’s foul troubles just didn’t allow for it. Even then, TKR took advantage of that and went for 23 points and dominated inside. Still, Purdue needed to go at what may be the most important glue piece for that team as Underwood appears to have lost all confidence in Dainja this season and there is no really interior presence beyond those two. That’ll be something to watch for in the rematch in Champaign.
Overall Grade: B
Just a B as an overall grade for the Boilermakers against the Illini. Hard to give them a better grade, even though they beat a top 10 team on their own floor, because going up 16 and 21 should have sealed this game for a big time victory. The final 8 minutes are excusable because of the victory and Purdue needing to alter their game plan defensively but those games are going to happen and Purdue needs to figure out a better way to handle it rather than simply holding on.
In the end, it is another opportunity to get over some of those mental hurdles that may remain from last season as I am confident that would have resulted in a loss previously. A home victory over really one of the only two realistic challengers in the B1G this season is key and dropping a home game in search of a number one seed would be devestating.
Purdue: 83 (77)
Illinois: 78 (71)
Close to the actual difference in the score again and I wasn’t sold on being an almost 10 point favorite against a team still playing really well. That being said, the Boilers should have beaten the Illini by 12 or more had a few simple things gone differently.
Player of the Game: Trey Kaufman-Renn
Raise your hand if you felt heading into this game that TKR was about to explode onto the scene? He has played really, really well all season but Coach Painter had been promoting his growth and play in games for a few weeks. It was nice to see that praise and that hard work that coach had been praising finally paid off for him for 23 points, 4 rebounds (3 offensive), and hitting likely the biggest shot on his lone three point attempt. You can see the confidence he has had this season and it makes Purdue incredibly difficult to beat. Suddenly, Purdue has 5 starters who can realistically go out and get you 20 points on any given night. Teams are going to be forced to not double off him anymore.
TKR was everywhere tonight.— Purdue Men's Basketball (@BoilerBall) January 6, 2024
Season-high 23 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists. pic.twitter.com/AzrjswKGP7
Play of the Game:
With just 5:13 left and the Illini having closed Purdue’s once 21 point lead to 11 points, the Illini sagged off TKR as he caught a high entry pass to double on Zach Edey. TKR, who is shooting 50% on the season from behind the arc, stepped into his only 3 point attempt and buried it to give Purdue a 79-65 advantage with five minutes left in the game. It would inevitably be Purdue’s final field goal attempt for the game.
Your @HammerAndRails 'Play of the Game' for @BoilerBall's big win over @IlliniMBB. TKR finds himself wide open and buries his only 3pt attempt on his way to 23 points. @CoachPainter jokingly said 'he looked like Ray Allen taking that shot.' pic.twitter.com/0fWp2awGp7— Jed Wilkinson (@PurdueWilkie) January 6, 2024