Beating highly-ranked rival would be big boost for Boilers
A loss to Iowa on Sunday would have been crushing for Purdue.
A win against No. 3 Indiana on Wednesday night would be a major resume-booster for the Boilermakers.
“The thing about playing in a great conference, you get a lot of opportunities to help yourself,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “We put ourselves in a tough spot with our struggles in the non-conference.
“The game we won (against Iowa in overtime) was important. Every single game that you have is important. It just depends on how you want to look at it. You just have to try your best to be consistent, and focus on what you have to do. You just have to play hard and compete, and try to get our guys to understand that.”
Of course, the Boilermakers (11-9, 4-3 Big Ten) will have to play an almost flawless game to beat the Hoosiers (18-2, 6-1), even at Mackey Arena.
Indiana won both games against Purdue last season, ending a five-game losing streak and sweeping the series for the first time since 2006. The Hoosiers’ win in West Lafayette also was their first since ’06, ending a four-game skid.
“Any team you’re playing in the Big Ten, you want to be able protect your home court, but especially in this game,” D.J. Byrd said. “It’s a big rivalry, and the crowd will be into it.”
Said Terone Johnson: “We want to keep it on an even keel. It’s another game that we’re trying to get another win. But at the same time, being from Indiana, the rivalry means a little more to me.”
For freshmen such as Ronnie Johnson, Wednesday will be the first experience playing in this game.
“I’m looking forward to it, all these four years,” he said. “You just have to stay the course of the game, just make plays when we need them, and just be as smart as you can out there.”
The Boilermakers are 7-3 since mid-December, with their play giving them at least a glimmer of hope that they could pull off the significant upset. They had been 4-6 after back-to-back losses to Eastern Michigan and Notre Dame.
“I’m pleased with our progress the past month,” Painter said. “We just put ourselves in such a hole, our inconsistent play non-conference. It’s going to be really important we have our best six weeks of basketball here — that goes without saying. To me, when you have such an inconsistent non-conference, now you have to be so good. We really have to continue to work toward that, just getting better and competing, playing smart.
“I’m not frustrated. I just wish we were in a better place when we started conference play.”
At the start of the week, Indiana was second in the nation in scoring with an average of 83.3 points per game. But Painter didn’t think Purdue was in a position to be able to dictate tempo, or necessarily attempt to keep the score in the 60s or 70s.
“The thing that you can control, you can take care of the basketball and make a good decision,” he said. “We’re going to score more points if we’re patient, when we make good decisions.”
“They’re a high-octane offensive team. They can put a lot of points on the board, so it’s very important to try your best to keep them out of transition, and keep them off the glass, and not allow them to drive the ball wherever they want, and get the ball inside whenever they want.”