Purdue doesn’t need any more help to win another Big Ten championship.
The Boilermakers will be just fine on their own.
While the rest of the league is knocking each other around, second-ranked Purdue keeps moving forward and creating separation.
On a night Zach Edey banked in his first career 3-pointer, Saturday’s 79-59 victory over rival Indiana, not only allowed the Boilermakers to sweep the season series but stretched their lead in the league standings. Granted, losses by Illinois and Wisconsin earlier Saturday created the scenario for Purdue to enjoy a two-game advantage in the loss column.
“It’s a great win for our seniors and more than anything, it gets us closer to being in a position to win a Big Ten championship,” coach Matt Painter said. “It’s a long road, and there’s a lot of people who can knock you off.”
The Boilermakers will never say they’re comfortable with seven games remaining – and they shouldn’t be – but it’s hard to see another team making a run to the top of the standings. Purdue would have to help, faltering during the next four weeks to make it possible.
PDF: Purdue-Indiana stats
There’s no need for the Boilermakers to look over their shoulder.
Offensively, the two-man game of Braden Smith and Edey inflicted plenty of damage against IU’s defense, which must not believe in helping each other.
Once Smith put one foot in the lane, the Hoosiers offered little assistance in slowing down the sophomore point guard. Smith scored 10 of his 15 first-half points on layups. He’s run into more traffic driving on I-65 than dealing with any congestion from Indiana.
Smith and Edey were a deadly combination in sending the Hoosiers home with a loss. They combined for 27 of Purdue’s 37 first-half points as Purdue led by 12 at the break.
IU’s offense couldn’t keep up, scoring four points in the last eight minutes before halftime and totaling 10 during a 13-minute stretch. Meanwhile, Purdue continued to increase its lead as Edey lived at the line in the second half and it discovered its touch from 3-point range.
Edey totaled 26 points – making 11 of 16 free throws – and 13 rebounds and Smith added 19 points and nine rebounds. The two combined for 15 defensive rebounds as Purdue limited the Hoosiers to five offensive boards.
The Boilermakers started 0 of 7 from 3-point range but made 8 of 14 the rest of the way, including three from Mason Gillis.
“BEST SHOOTER IN THE COUNTRY”
The 7-foot-4 senior is now a 50% shooter from 3-point range.
“I’m the best shooter in the country, and I’ll leave it at that,” Edey said with a smile.
That’s Edey’s story and he’s sticking to it. But it’s been a long time coming for Edey, who routinely shoots 3-pointers inside Cardinal Court and Mackey Arena during practice and in the offseason in individual workouts.
Saturday’s attempt was an impromptu moment without input from Painter.
“He told me in the timeout before, ‘Hey, hit me on the pop,’ ” he said. “I kind of just giggled. I was like, ‘Dude, we’re up 20; what are you doing?’ It worked.”
Said Painter: “Yeah, I didn’t know. They did that without my knowledge. He missed it so bad that it went in.
“He deserves it. He comes every night, and he competes and plays hard.”
His first 3-point attempt was against Eastern Kentucky in December, but he didn’t connect. Edey has never lacked confidence in shooting from beyond the arc. It’s been more about opportunity and timing, and both were right on Saturday.
The next order of business? Track down the game ball as a memento.
“I’m going to look for it,” he said.
Smith had the paint to himself in the first half.
Once Smith dribbled past the ball screen, the area was his to claim. And Smith planted his flag there most of the night without a lot of resistance from the Hoosiers.
Smith did most of his damage in the first half by conducting his own layup drill.
“To be honest, I couldn’t tell you,” he said. “I was honestly really surprised how I got to the rim a couple of times with no defense, to be honest. It felt weird to me but take what they give you.”
Saturday wasn’t the first time an opponent played Smith that way, and Painter said the Boilermakers were trying to do the same against IU’s Trey Galloway. Arizona tried to do the same thing in December.
“They were trying to keep him off his right hand, and so when go up and you keep somebody off your right hand and you’re trying to open up space there, we had a to flip it and twist the screen and then set it to his left,” Painter said. “If he wanted to snake it, get back to his right hand and just play off his left hand, it just kind of opened up more space.”
The Boilermakers are defined, in part, by their 3-point shooting.
When they started 0 of 7 from beyond the arc, the offense didn’t come to a standstill. They worked the ball inside to Edey or Smith gashed IU’s defense by getting in the lane.
Smith finally broke the skid, hitting a 3-pointer with 5:47 left before halftime. It was part of a 17-7 run to end the first half.
“The coaches do a great job of always reassuring us that whenever we miss shots, it’s not OK to get down about the missed shots,” Gillis said. “We want to take good shots and we were taking good shots like we did today.
“We missed, but the coaches backed us up. They told us to keep taking those shots. Whenever you have a coach like that, it gives you confidence to play throughout the mistakes and carry on in the game.”
The missed 3-pointers didn’t last long. In the second half, Purdue made 5 of 8 from beyond the arc and each one put the Hoosiers in a deeper hole. The Boilermakers also won this game without two of their better shooters – Fletcher Loyer and Lance Jones – hitting a combined 2 of 13 field goals, including 2 of 9 from 3-point range.
Purdue overcame the missed shots by holding a 46-31 rebounding edge, committing nine turnovers, getting to the line 33 times and collecting 10 steals on IU’s 12 turnovers.
“Body language wasn’t great,” Painter said. “When we missed some shots, when you don’t make shots, that’s who you are. Can you still win games? I thought our guys pushed through it.”