INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — If it so happens that Purdue doesn't beat Iowa on Sunday in the Big Ten Tournament final, the sun will still come up on Monday morning. The Boilermakers will still get their NCAA Tournament bid on Sunday night and there will still be plenty of madness to go in March.
But for these Purdue guys — and this rendition of the Purdue basketball program — this championship game is hugely important because, quite frankly, this group needs to win. Needs to win something.
They need to win a title.
They need to hoist a trophy.
They need to accomplish something.
They have won 44 regular season games in the past two years. They have won 27 Big Ten regular season games, more than everyone except Illinois (31). They were preseason Big Ten favorites this year, and didn't win the league title.
They were postseason Big Ten Tournament favorites, too, so they need this. They've won this tournament only once ever, so this true does matter.
Why? Because this team sets goals. And this team, ranked no worse than No. 9 in the country all year and as a high as No. 1 for a brief moment, has failed to accomplish many of their goals so far.
Beat Indiana twice? Nope.
Win the Big Ten regular season title? Nope
And now, the tourney title? See what I mean. This team is so good, so loaded, so deep at all five positions.
And they have yet to check any of the biggest boxes.
So, yes, Sunday matters. And I get that the NCAA Tournament is more important, but this matters, too. You know it, I know it, Matt Painter knows and — most importantly — these players know it.
"(Sunday) is a big game for us,'' Purdue star Jaden Ivey said after Saturday's 75-70 win over Michigan State in the semifinals. "Obviously, not winning the regular season championship, that was a goal of ours and we fell short.
"Then now, on (Sunday), we have another opportunity to win a championship and take one home to our fans. We've just got to lock in (Sunday) and read the scout and take Iowa out of what they like to do. We just need to play great team ball.''
Purdue hasn't had an easy path to the finals. Penn State, the 11th seed, gave them all they could handle in the quarterfinals on Friday night and Michigan State wouldn't go away on Saturday, either.
Ivey had 22 points, many of them in spectacular fashion, and Eric Hunter Jr., who's played at a high level in the past month or more, made two late threes to help the Boilers pull away.
This is a very good team. And they need to prove it one more day against an Iowa team that's been red-hot for a month, winning 11 of 13 games.
"Matt's got a hell of a team,'' Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "They can beat you so many different ways. They're a load inside (with twin towers Zach Edey and Trevion Williams) that we were OK at (slowing down). We kind of changed that out. Sometimes we doubled, sometimes we didn't.
"And right now the better team won, (Williams) might be the best passer in the state and I know Indiana's got some pro players here, but that kid is from right down the road from us. I love Trevion, he's a very good player. He's a very good passer. Matt's done a hell of a job with him, with the body and the post moves, but the passing, it's something else. I'm not sure, that's like Magic (Johnson) passes. We made a highlight of just his passes. and it's pretty impressive, I might send it to him when I'm done.''
Iowa poses a different threat. They are the one team that can match Purdue on the offensive end. Among Power 6 schools — we add the Big East for basketball — Iowa is No. 2 in the country in scoring (84.0 points per game) and Purdue is No. 3 at 80.4. (Arizona is first at 84.6.)
What Iowa doesn't have is a way to stop Purdue's bigs. Edey and Williams could have a field day, like they did in the two regular season wins, first at Mackey in December and again in Iowa City in January. In the two games, they've combined for 37 points and 39 rebounds.
Indiana's Trayce Jackson-Davis scored 31 points against Iowa in Saturday's semifinal, won by Iowa 80-77. He was 15-of-21 from the field and, as always, every basket came right around the rim.
Purdue, a 2-point favorite, can exploit that. But they also have to be worried — very worried — about Iowa forward Keegan Murray, who's playing at a national player of the year kind of level right now. The 6-foot-8 sophomore from Cedar Rapids has scored 84 points already this week, averaging 28.0 points per game. He made three three-pointers in a two-plus minute stretch TWICE against Indiana, while going 8-for-10 from deep.
Purdue can't let that happen on Sunday. The Boilers, a team that gets hurt by lulls now and then, can't have any long lapses against Iowa. Purdue has to avoid stretches of turnovers and bad shots, which has been an issue at times.
"Yeah, when it's turnovers, now you're going to get those runouts and you're going to get behind plays and you're going to get layups, so those are the things you have to get corrected,'' Painter said. "That wasn't the case in this lull (against Michigan State). This lull was missed shots. As long as you're taking good shots you're going to have a better chance to set your defense when you take a good shot and miss it versus taking a crazy shot, something that's unexpected, or obviously turn the basketball over.
"It doesn't mean you eliminate it, but the percentages will show as long as you keep taking good shots, you should be able to set your defense and know what's going on. So the lulls for us are the turnovers or the bad shots. When we eliminate those or really diminish them, that's when we have success because I think we're second in the country in field goal percentage, but yet we're still a good offensive rebounding team. As long as we can keep taking good shots, we're fine. Like (Saturday), we had lulls, but we had 15 offensive rebounds, and we only had nine turnovers. So you live with it and you push through it, and you're still able to score 75.''
Playing three games in three days is tough, but now that Purdue is here, they might as well wrap it up with a title. It means something.
Not everything, but something.
Why are the pregame introduction cheers at Mackey always the loudest when the great Gene Keady says ''home to 24 Big Ten championships?'' Because it matters. Because it was a goal for those 24 Purdue teams — and they accomplished it.
Winning this tournament is a goal for the 2022 Boilermakers, too.
So, go do it.
The sun will come up on Monday, but it might as well come up sparkling off a trophy. Having a run is a good thing, especially with the NCAA right around the corner.
"We had a couple of tough losses at Michigan State and Wisconsin, and didn't play very well against Indiana,'' Painter said of the close to the regular season. "And we've hung in there in both game here, too. With possessions under five minutes, our guys responded. I think you build confidence by responding and getting in tough situations. So I do think this was good for us.
"Any time you lose in the Big Ten tournament, it can get you on edge and really help you, and then when you win ,you always think it kind of softens you a little bit, but who wants to lose? You're trying to win every game you play. It can go any which way. It just can. The winning can really help you in the NCAA Tournament. Getting a loss can get you some rest or get on edge.
"There's just a couple ways to look at it. You wish as a coach you knew exactly how because you really have to forecast your team and have a pulse on your team and yet you have people on your team that haven't been through those experiences. So it's a real dicey situation as a coach because everybody always wants to know like what concerns you. Everything concerns you, you know. You're just waiting for that collapse. You want to keep building, you want to keep playing well, you want to keep being the aggressor, but then things happen when you go cold or you miss free throws or just kind of those demoralizing things. It's a good question, it's a very interesting thing that coaches will always go back and forth. I don't know if there's just one answer. I think you can have one answer for a particular team, but through the years you won't have just one answer.''
Sunday's answer? Go win, and feel good about yourselves. Accomplish a goal — and then go accomplish some more.
Related stories to Purdue basketball
- PURDUE BEATS MICHIGAN STATE: After both teams struggled in the first half, Purdue and Michigan State lit up the scoreboard after halftime with a spot in the Big Ten Tournament finals on the line. The Boilermakers, led by Jaden Ivey's 22 points, made enough plays to keep control of the game and walk away with a win. CLICK HERE
- WHAT MATT PAINTER SAID AFTER THE WIN: Here's what Purdue head coach Matt Painter said after the team's 75-70 win over Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. Below is the full transcript from his postgame press conference. CLICK HERE
- WHAT JADEN IVEY, TREVION WILLIAMS SAID AFTER THE WIN: Here's what Purdue players Jaden Ivey and Trevion Williams said after the team's 75-70 win over Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. Below is the full transcript from their postgame press conference. CLICK HERE
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