STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – If it seems like this college basketball season has flown right by, that's because it has. On Friday night, Purdue plays its final road game of the season at Penn State, and it's the last time that the Boilermakers will have to leave the state of Indiana this season.
That's because the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments are both being held in their entirety in Indiana. The conference event is March 10-14 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indiana, and the entire three-week NCAA event will be played at six different venues around Indiana, mostly in Indianapolis but there will also be games at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette and Assembly Hall in Bloomington.
But there's this last matter of business on the road at Penn State, where another road win could have great rewards for the Boilermakers after Thursday night's upsets in the Big Ten. (For our BIG TEN DAILY report, CLICK HERE)
A win against the Nittany Lions could help Purdue earn the No. 4 spot in the Big Ten standings and a double-bye in the league tournament. So, yes, this one is big. It's also Purdue's first game in six days, so they should be well-rested.
But there are challenges that lie ahead with Penn State, and team that got 23 offensive rebounds in the last meeting and pushed Purdue around despite the loss.
"Giving up 23 offensive rebounds, that's going to be a real important part of the game,'' Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "You hope to be playing your best basketball this time of year, and that's what we're all trying to do. You have to be steady, have to be consistent, play through calls and injuries, because it gets hard this time of year and games matter so much.''
Here's everything you need to know about Purdue's game with Penn State on Friday night:
- Who: Purdue Boilermakers (15-8, 10-6 in the Big Ten) at Penn State Nittany Lions (8-12, 5-11 in the Big Ten)
- When: 7 p.m. ET, Friday, Feb. 26
- Where: Bryce Jordan Center, State College, Pa.
- Latest Line: Penn State was favored by 1 point according to the DraftKings.com website as of 8 a.m. on Friday. At 6 p.m., one hour prior to tip, it has crept up to 1.5 points. The over/under was 140 and has ticked down to 139 at 6 p.m. ET.
- Poll rankings: Purdue fell out of both the Associated Press and Coaches top-25 polls last week, but they would be ranked No. 28 in both the AP and Coaches poll. Penn State is unranked.
- Kenpom.com rankings: Purdue moved up another spot to No. 20 in the Kenpom.com rankings after beating Nebraska last Saturday. Penn State is ranked No. 35.
- Last time out: Purdue beat Nebraska 75-58 last Saturday, thanks to a big second-half rally. Sasha Stefanovic made four three-pointers during the run. Penn State beat Nebraska 86-83 on Tuesday night in Lincoln. Myreon Jones had 29 points for the Nittany Lions, including six three-pointers.
- Series history: Purdue leads the overall series, 40-13.
- Last meeting: The two teams played in West Lafayette on Jan. 17, 2021, with Purdue winning 80-72. Stefanovic was the leading scorer (15) and Trevion Williams led Purdue in rebounds (11).
- TV: FOX Sports 1.
- Announcers: Kevin Burkhardt (play-by-play) and Steve Lavin (color commentary).
- Radio: Purdue Radio Network
- Announcers: Rob Blackmon and Bobby Riddell
Here are three things to look out for on Friday against Penn State:
1. Continue to dominate rivalry
Purdue leads the series with Penn State by a wide margin, and have won 10 of the last 11 games in the rivalry. That needs to continue, with so much on the line. A win would also allow Purdue to finish 5-5 on the road in the Big Ten this season, which is always a big deal, fans in the stands or no.
Games are always tight at the Bryce Jordan Center. Purdue's last three wins over Penn State in State College have come in overtime (2015, 2017, 2019). Purdue won Big Ten titles in two of those years, 2017 and 2019. Purdue won the first game this season, but Penn State has a lot of weapons and they can be dangerous. It's up to Purdue to get off to an early lead and put some doubt in their heads.
2. Sasha finding his groove
It was really important that Sasha Stefanovic got hot in the second half against Nebraska, because his post-COVID shooting slump was starting to get to him. "I hadn't made a shot in a month,'' he said, which was, sadly, all true.
Stefanovic made four three-pointers in the second half when Purdue broke the game open, and it made everyone happy because he's such an important part of the Boilermakers's offensive attack. He had been 0-for-10 shooting in his first three games back, so this was big. Any big run down the stretch here will be predicated on Stefanovic playing well. He had 14 points in 24 minutes off the bench.
Painter plans to have him continue to come off the bench for now, and it's all about playing well when you are in the game, regardless of when the minutes come.
"Just be ready to play. It's a little bit different when you come off the bench,'' Painter said. "Obviously when there's changes, it doesn't mean that anything is permanent. As a coach, you still want to give yourself a chance to get off to good starts, but you want to finish well, too.
"You can have two positive responses to changes in the starting lineup. Sometimes it's a blend, too, in how one guy plays with the other four.''
3. Trevion needs to stay out of foul trouble
Penn State has plenty of size up front, and they like to play physical and bang bodies. So Purdue center Trevion Williams has to be careful not to get caught up in it and pick up early fouls. When his minutes are limited, it changes the way that Purdue likes to play.
John Harrar is very physical, and he had 10 offensive rebounds himself in that last game. He also likes to keep a body on Williams at all times. It makes for a long night
"They play with a lot of interchangeable pieces and they chase rebounds down and go hard every time'' Painter said. "Harrar might be one of the best in the country in terms of his effort. He goes after everything. Hopefully we've got some guys who have pride in doing a better job of boxing out.''