By Dustin Dopirak
Purdue bounced off the Assembly Hall floor like it owned the joint, which made sense because at this point the Boilermakers pretty much do.
Trevion Williams skipped toward mid court redshirt freshman forward Mason Gillis grabbed the game-ending rebound to polish off the Boilermakers’ 81-69 win over Indiana on Thursday night, then untucked his jersey from his trunks and slapped five around half court with redshirt freshman Brandon Newman. Purdue coach Matt Painter asked them to settle down the celebration just a bit, and the Boilers did, but they bounded to their locker room hollering with glee. Junior point guard Eric Hunter Jr. stopped for a moment just before he got to the tunnel with a hand-held video camera to capture the moment for posterity — and probably for Purdue’s in-house media operation.
It shouldn’t have been this easy for this Purdue team to win in Bloomington, even without the crowd and the noise that would usually provide a bigger home court advantage. Purdue and Indiana came into the game with matching 8-5 overall records and 3-3 conference marks. Both teams are young. Both teams have been inconsistent. Painter has a longevity edge over Indiana coach Archie Miller and a more stable program overall, but the Boilermakers have lost all five of their starters from the 2019 Elite Eight team and are relying as much if not more on freshman and sophomores than Indiana is.
And yet, the Boilers still mostly cruised to a double-digit road victory for their eighth straight win in the rivalry. Indiana’s last win came in 2016 when Tom Crean was still the Hoosiers’ coach and Barack Obama was still the United States’ President. Since 2013 when Indiana entered the NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed and Purdue missed the tournament entirely, Purdue has won 11 of 12 games against the Hoosiers, and the current winning streak is their longest in the series since a nine-game run from 1929 to 1935.
“It is not a fun thing, losing to a team that many times in a row,” sophomore guard Armaan Franklin said. “It gets kind of old; you know. We want to be the team to change the culture about it, rewrite the story. We wanted to do that tonight, but unfortunately, we did not make enough plays, did not make enough shots. So, we will see them again, so we will try to pick it up the next time.”
Actually, Indiana made exactly as many shots as Purdue did. The teams each finished the game with 25 field goals. What set the Boilermakers apart from Indiana on Thursday night, and what sets them apart as a program on a grander scale, was the kind of shots the two teams made.
Purdue made 11 of its 17 3-point shots and also made 20 of 31 from the free throw line. Indiana meanwhile, was just 3 of 18 from beyond the arc including 0 of 6 at the second half, and the Hoosiers didn’t help themselves at the line making just 16 of 29 attempts.
This is a big reason why Purdue has been able to keep itself stable since about 2015. Painter makes a point to recruit and develop shooting as a cornerstone of his program, and the Boilers rank sixth in the Big Ten this season in 3-pointers made. Miller hasn’t been able to do that yet — his team ranks last in the conference in made 3s — and on Thursday night the Hoosiers didn’t defend well enough to make up for that discrepancy.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well,” Miller said. “So your defense is really going to have to be good. Tonight it wasn’t, and that’s what happens in this league if you don’t really have that side of the ball in check.”
The Boilermakers are capable of burning teams that aren’t because they have an abundance of 3-point options. Their 11 3-point shots were spread among six players, and all six made more than half of their attempts. Hunter hit three, guards Sasha Stefanovic, Brandon Newman and Jaden Ivey each hit two, and freshman guard Ethan Morton and redshirt junior forward Aaron Wheeler each added one when the Hoosiers seemed to have finally marked all of Purdue’s top shooters.
It was clear early that would be a major problem as Purdue made 10 of its first 15 shots and six of its first seven 3-point shots with four different players hitting at least one of those 3s to give Purdue an early 12-point lead.
“I thought they played with edge, with a lot of confidence, and shot the ball extremely well,” Miller said. “We did not have an answer offensively and we played poor on defense. To be honest, they could have done whatever they wanted offensively because we had no answer.”
The Hoosiers recovered defensively to some extent late in the first half, at one point holding Purdue for more than five minutes without a field goal, but the Boilers still managed to shoot 52.2 percent from the field and 4 of 8 from 3-point range after halftime. Williams eventually got going with 22 points and 10 rebounds, joining Ivey (13 points), Hunter and Newman (11 points each) in double figures. Indiana cut the lead to one at one point but Purdue followed with a 14-5 run.
“We just could not get stops,” Miller said. “They made shots and they made a lot of them.”
The Hoosiers made a lot too, just not many from bonus range. Forwards Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson brought the muscle on offense with Jackson-Davis scoring 25 points on 9 of 16 shooting and Thompson posting a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. In his return after missing two games with an ankle injury, Franklin scored 14 points and was most effective going to the rim. The Hoosiers scored 36 points in the paint.
They didn’t, however, get much from outside of there. Franklin, the Hoosiers’ best 3-point shooter when the night began, clearly didn’t have his legs underneath him and went 0 of 5 from beyond the arc. Starting guards Al Durham and Rob Phinisee were a combined 1 of 5 from 3 and 3 of 10 from the field, cobbling together just eight points between them. Redshirt sophomore wing Jerome Hunter hit a pair of 3-point shots on five attempts, but the rest of the team was a combined 1 of 13.
It’s a continuing problem in Miller’s program that doesn’t seem to go away. Franklin’s return could ease it to some extent, but the Boilermakers will still have the edge when they meet again March 6 and again when they meet next season when Purdue will be more mature and add highly-regarded in-state forwards Trey Kaufman and Caleb Furst to the fold.
Thursday’s loss is painful for the Hoosiers because it might have been Indiana’s best chance to get a win over Purdue for a while, and it might also be its best chance to get any win. Their game Sunday at Michigan State was postponed for COVID-19 issues, but the Hoosiers follow that with a trip to Iowa, a home game against Rutgers, a road game at Michigan and then home games against Illinois and Iowa. There’s not an obvious easy win in that stretch, which makes Thursday’s loss hurt even more.
“We did not deserve to win the game,” Miller said. “We will have to take this one and eat it. It hurts. Disappointed in the performance and that is on me.”
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