No. 24 Purdue made itself known this weekend at the Phil Knight Legacy Tournament with consecutive wins over West Virginia, Gonzaga and Duke.
A team that was barely in the AP Top 25 poll not only beat two top-10 opponents but did so by nearly 20-point margins. The Boilermakers (6-0) beat No. 8 Duke and No. 6 Gonzaga by 19 and 18 points respectively.
It is the second team to ever do so in the same week on a neutral site, joining UCLA in the 1968 Final Four.
“Each game is a different story. You are going to have games where the ball goes in and ones where it doesn’t,” head coach Matt Painter said after West Virginia. “This is a team sport, and collectively that’s what we try to do and grow every year.”
In each game in the tournament, Purdue had unique struggles but fought through it all with the same mindset: hustle and strong teamwork.
Duke Blue Devils (6-2)
The finale of the tournament led the Boilermakers to the No. 8 Blue Devils.
With many fans on Twitter saying they were “content with just beating Gonzaga,” the game against Duke was a chance for the Boilermakers to increase their AP poll rankings and come back undefeated.
The players did not treat it as such.
Junior center Zach Edey fought through three different defenders: top-10 recruits freshmen Kyle Filipowski, Dereck Lively and senior transfer from Northwestern Ryan Young.
“Coming into the game, we didn’t really know how we were gonna stack up,” Edey said. “We always knew we were gonna play hard. We were gonna play tough, and we were gonna hit the glass hard.”
Edey fouled out both freshmen and ran up the score when pitted against Young. Duke head coach Jon Scheyer not only rotated multiple players against Edey but switched to a 2-3 zone.
The zone gave Purdue a tough time, which caused it to go cold in the middle of the second half. This was something Painter said the team might work on.
“If you don’t play hard and lay it on the line, all those schematics things go out the window,” Painter said after the game. “We are not gonna be perfect but we can execute.”
It was also Purdue’s IQ that kept it ahead in the game. There were several high-IQ plays from the team during the Duke game, including plays from Edey who led the team in assists at 3.
Purdue held the lead from about seven minutes onward. When Purdue was up by 17 just five minutes into the second, it felt as if the lead might shrink.
“A lot of times when guys get that substantial lead, that’s when they start doing different things,” Painter said.
It felt like last year’s team – blowing big leads to Ohio State, North Carolina and Michigan State – but the massive lead for the Boilermakers didn’t faze them, even when calls didn’t go their way.
They held on until the end, beating Duke 75-56 and coming home undefeated.
Gonzaga Bulldogs (4-2)
The story of this game was the culmination of all the things Purdue showed it could do. The players shot the ball, played defense and kept possession at a high level the entire game.
The loose-ball hustle plays were once again a staple of the game for Purdue. Despite the shots not falling early in the game, the team was able to keep the game close in large part due to the hustle plays of junior guard Brandon Newman and the rest of the group.
In this game, it was Newman who dove into the stands to save a ball. He got beer spilled on him by a fan during the play, but he didn’t seem angry about it, and was seen laughing with the fan after the play.
“Our guys are competitive and fun to coach,” Painter said post-game. “They get along, and they are out there playing with a purpose.”
Purdue held Gonzaga, the second-ranked offense according to kenpom.com, to 66 points. Purdue’s defense, which had shown out earlier in the year, held out against the Bulldogs.
The big reason for the improvement in defense this year, as noted by both Edey and Painter, was that the team was finally listening to the scouting report.
“If we scheme something different, like we did today, they stick with it and follow through,” Painter said after the game.
There were a few players on the scouting report who don’t shoot well, so the plan was to give them more open shots, Edey said. It was clear during the game that even as Gonzaga had options open beyond the arc, they couldn’t hit their shots.
Along with a few other changes defensively, most notably doubling senior center Drew Timme in the paint, Purdue created chaos and held Gonzaga to a low score.
Purdue ran away with it in the final minutes, bringing the final score to 84-66 and advancing to the final round to take on No. 8 Duke.
West Virginia Mountaineers (5-1)
For the first round of the Phil Knight Legacy Tournament, Purdue beat West Virginia 75-70.
West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins was just the second coach Matt Painter lost to when he took over as head coach of Purdue basketball. Back in 2004, Purdue lost to Cincinnati 79-59. Painter has only lost to Huggins once out of the last four matchups since then.
This time around, both teams were undefeated.
West Virginia started the year ranked 79th in Kenpom.com’s statistical rankings. But after four victories of 20 or more points, the Mountaineers jumped up in the rankings.
It was predicted to be a close affair. Vegas predicted Purdue would win by just 1.5 points. If the Boilermakers wanted to keep their No. 24 ranking they had just received in the Top 25 AP poll, they were going to need to win this game.
At the start, Purdue got out to an 8-point lead. From then on, that lead remained largely the same.
The Boilermakers were hitting their shots, 51% from the field, and hitting their 3-pointers as well, 47%. They out-rebounded West Virginia 35 to 31 and made 13 more free throws.