“I’d rather shoot a 3 than a 2,” sophomore guard Sasha Stefanovic said after his game-winning shot.
With less than five seconds left in Welsh-Ryan Arena, Stefanovic hit a deep 3-pointer to make the final score Purdue 61, Northwestern 58.
Even though Purdue (12-10, 5-6 Big Ten) only needed 2 points to go ahead, Stefanovic went for the kill.
“I think my percentage is roughly the same (for 2- or 3-pointers) anyways,” Stefanovic said. “I think I was just open, so I just didn’t really think about it.”
The shot came off an assist from sophomore guard Eric Hunter Jr., who set Stefanovic up with a wide open shot from beyond the arc.
“They paid more attention to me and left (Stefanovic) wide open,” Hunter Jr. said. “We like our chances with him wide open.”
Stefanovic scored only 6 points in the game after dropping a goose egg in his previous showing against Rutgers on Tuesday, but he scored when it mattered most.
Less than a minute earlier, the game was tied by a 3-pointer from senior guard Jahaad Proctor. After a commanding 19-point performance on Tuesday, Proctor was put back in the starting lineup for the first time in a month. He underperformed offensively for most of the game, but — like Stefanovic — he rose to the occasion at the most critical time.
Head coach Matt Painter said after the game that sometimes a game can come down to one extra possession and whatever a team is able to do with it.
“You come down to the end, that one possession is really important,” Painter said.
Purdue went on an 11-0 run for the final 2.5 minutes of the game, but for the first 37:30, the Boilers struggled to stop the Wildcats (6-15, 1-10) in any fashion.
Even so, the majority of the game’s events didn’t end up affecting the outcome of the game in a significant way.
Northwestern led for most of the game, but both teams had their share of scoring runs and droughts. Northwestern shot above 50% from 3 for most of the game but still lobbed up three air balls from beyond the arc. Purdue’s field-goal percentage dropped below 30% a few times, but the Boilers still scored at opportune moments to keep themselves in the game.
Purdue had an especially difficult time stopping the 3-ball from sophomore forward Miller Kopp and freshman guard Boo Buie.
“Kopp had the 3s there in the first half in transition,” Painter said. “I thought that was the difference. He hits those two 3s and then we’re down at half.”
In the second half, Buie made three 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to give the Wildcats the lead in a 9-point swing. Kopp and Buie led their team in scoring with 15 and 12 points, respectively.
The Boilermakers were heavily out-rebounded in the first half, but their game on the glass improved exponentially in the later portions of the game.
Even with rebounding being a struggle, Painter went with four-guard on the floor for much of the second half, leaving sophomore forward Trevion Williams alone in the paint.
“It’s not always bigger people getting rebounds,” Painter said. “We’ve played big before and rebounded well; we’ve played big before with our two centers and haven’t rebounded well.
“Sometimes it’s being quicker to the ball, sometimes it’s staying out of rotations. If you have quicker guys and can stay out of those rotations, now your five can stay home. If he’s your best rebounder, that really helps us.”
Purdue’s rebounding did improve in the back half of the game, but it still didn’t affect the game in any quantifiable way. In the end, it came down to two key possessions for the Boilers and a series of offensive and defensive lapses for the Wildcats.
The win served as Purdue’s first Big Ten road win of the season, something that could potentially help their NCAA Tournament contention in the future.
“Painter talks about how we gotta fight on the road,” Hunter said, “and this is a testament to what we can do and how we can get things done.”