In its first home game since Christmas, Purdue men’s basketball team extended its win streak to three games with a victory over Penn State on Sunday.
The Boilers (10-5, 5-3 Big Ten) defeated the Nittany Lions (3-5, 0-4) 80-72 after a second-half offensive explosion. The team scored 47 of its points in the second half on 54% shooting from the field; the team finished the game with 40% shooting. Junior guard Sasha Stefanovic led the team in scoring with 15 points, and junior forward Trevion Williams earned a double-double off 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Before the game began, a uniform miscue created a small panic in Mackey. Purdue was planning to wear white uniforms for the game, but Penn State showed up in its “home” grey uniforms by accident, per a tweet from the team’s account. Purdue was forced to switch to its road black uniforms for the game, a shakeup which redshirt freshman forward Mason Gillis said boosted the team’s energy.
Both teams were plagued by poor 3-point shooting throughout the game, especially in the first half. Purdue finished 6-32 from behind the arc, and the teams combined for 5-32 shooting in the first half. This pattern calls back to Purdue’s first win of the streak, a Jan. 8 victory over Michigan State.
In that game, which Purdue won 55-54 off a last-second layup from Williams, the Boilers went 3-24 from 3-point territory, and did not score a single 3-pointer in the first half on 12 attempts.
Purdue had a remarkably similar arc in both games, a struggling first half and a second half explosion. The key difference came from the opponents’ ability to capitalize on the Boilermakers’ mistakes. The Spartans (8-4, 2-4), took advantage of Purdue’s miscues and held a 15-point lead at halftime. Purdue had to tighten up and fight back throughout the entire second half to pull out a victory.
“I just tried to tell them to focus on playing hard,” junior guard Eric Hunter Jr. said after the win. “When you focus on playing hard everything else is taken care of.”
The Lions largely weren’t capitalizing as well, and allowed the Boilers to end the first half ahead by one point. Purdue used the second half to extend its lead and fend off a late comeback attempt.
Purdue was also aided by a significant team-wide rebounding effort. The team finished with 33 defensive rebounds, scored 17 points off 14 offensive rebounds and four Boilermakers finished with five defensive rebounds.
Those efforts make a stark contrast to the team’s performance against Indiana on Thursday, when the Boilers started hot and stayed hot to win their eighth consecutive game over the Hoosiers (8-6, 3-4). The team shot 53.2% from the field and 64.7% from the arc.
“We’re a good 3-point shooting team,” head coach Matt Painter said after the Penn State game. “We didn’t look that way today, but we are. We have guys that can make it.”
Twitter users joked during Sunday’s game that the Boilers had used up all of their shots during Thursday’s game as an explanation for their troubles against Penn State.
The Boilers look to extend their winning streak against No. 15 Ohio State tonight in Columbus. The game will be the Boilers’ fifth road matchup in seven games since Christmas, and the team’s second contest against the Buckeyes (11-3, 5-3) this season. The Boilers won the first matchup 67-60 at home back in December.
The game was moved up in the schedule last week after the postponement of a planned home game against Nebraska due to COVID-19 issues with the Huskers. The Boilers would have normally been preparing for a home matchup v. Michigan on Friday, but team members say they aren’t worried about the shortened practice time for this game.
“We’re not going too hard or anything in practice, it’s just mentally preparing for what Ohio State’s going to do,” Stefanovic said. “Obviously it helps since we’ve played them before, we’re a little familiar with what they do.
“These are the challenges you want.”
The game will tipoff tonight at 6:30 p.m. in Value City Arena, and will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.