No. 22 Indiana capped off rivalry week with its first win against in-state rival Purdue since Feb. 16, 2013, a season in which the Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo-led Hoosiers won the Big Ten regular-season title. The Hoosiers have the chance to do the same this season as their 77–73 victory over the No. 17 Boilermakers propelled Indiana into sole possession of first place in the conference with three games left in the regular season.
The Hoosiers led by as many as 19 points in the second half, but the Boilermakers cut the deficit with seven three-pointers in the final 10 minutes, the last of which cut it to a two-point game with 36 seconds left. Indiana senior point guard Yogi Ferrell made a layup on the Hoosiers’ last possession to score the last of his 18 points and Purdue center A.J. Hammons couldn’t answer on the other end.
Here are three thoughts about the game and its larger impact:
Indiana came to battle against a bigger Purdue team
Purdue’s front line may be as formidable as any in the country. The Boilermakers start 7-foot, 250-pound Hammons and 6'9", 250-pound forward Caleb Swanigan, with 7'2" Isaac Haas coming off the bench. But the run-and-gun Hoosiers matched Purdue on the boards—each team grabbed 25 rebounds—and Indiana had an 8–3 advantage on the offensive glass. Indiana has the worst turnover percentage in the Big Ten but coughed up the ball just four times to Purdue’s 13.
The fouls added up quickly for Indiana’s frontcourt (18 total) but Thomas Bryant, Max Bielfeldt and the Hoosiers’ reserve forwards matched up against a bigger Purdue front line. Offensively, Indiana scored 77 points on 47.5% shooting from the field and 42.9% shooting from three against a Purdue team ranked seventh nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, per kenpom.com.
Assembly Hall provides one of the strongest home-court advantages in college basketball
Assembly Hall is where ranked teams go to die. Since Ferrell arrived in Bloomington, Indiana is 13–2 against ranked opponents, including three top-five teams. Purdue is simply the latest team in a long line of nationally ranked teams to lose on Branch McCracken Court.
As one Big Ten coach told SI’s Seth Davis, if the Hoosiers could play every game in Assembly Hall, “they could win the title.” The Hoosiers boast a 16–0 record there this season.
Even during a down season in 2013–14, Indiana went 4–1 against ranked opponents. And this year is no down year. Indiana is 17–3 since its loss at Duke, sitting alone in first place in the Big Ten after Saturday night and in possession of resume-boosting victories over Iowa and Purdue, each of which came at home.
Indiana will have to play equally well away from Assembly Hall as it does inside it if the Hoosiers are going to make a run in March.
The Big Ten race will be a fun one
Welcome to the 2015–16 Big Ten, where the top two teams, Indiana and Iowa, have lost to Penn State, and the conference’s third-place team, Maryland, was the victim of Minnesota’s lone win of the calendar year.
Three games separate the first- and eighth-place teams as they fight for a top-four seed in the Big Ten standings and the benefit of receiving a double-bye in the conference tournament.
Michigan State is eighth in the AP poll but sits in a tie for fifth place in the conference. Ohio State, largely considered an afterthought in regard to the NCAA tournament, would claim the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament if the season ended Saturday. And Wisconsin, which has won seven of its last eight games, is seventh in the Big Ten, but the Badgers could finish 13–5 in conference play if they run the table.
Indiana faces Iowa on the road on March 1 and the Hoosiers play Maryland in their regular-season finale on March 6. Close on Indiana’s heels, Iowa and Maryland have seven combined games remaining against teams in the top eight of the Big Ten standings.
Buckle up, because the next two weeks should be a frantic race to the finish.