KRAVITZ: On a day when Purdue wasn’t at its best, it was just good enough to beat the inspired Hoosiers

Purdue's Isaac Haas (44) prepares to shoot against Indiana's Juwan Morgan during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018, in Bloomington, Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Bob Kravitz

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WTHR) - This is why Purdue is Purdue, why they stand right up there with Villanova and Virginia and the other college basketball behemoths who have a chance to still be standing come early April. On a day when the Boilers didn’t knock down 3-point shots (5-of-18) or defend at their usual high level (IU shot 50 percent from the field), they took IU’s best effort and managed to silence the typically manic crowd at Assembly Hall and win their school-record 17th straight game.

It’s one thing to steamroll opponents, which they’ve done most of this basketball season, winning by an average of more than 21 points per game. It’s another to get IU in THE rivalry game, on a day when the building was juiced by Victor Oladipo’s presence, a day when Juwan Morgan and Robert Johnson played just about as well as humanly possible…and still win, ultimately pulling away late to beat the Hoosiers 74-67.

This game, along with the victory over hot-shooting Michigan earlier in the week, shows why Purdue has become a team that can talk about national-title aspirations without blushing. They are the hunted these days, defending Big Ten champions and sitting atop the Big Ten once again with a 10-0 record, and they are still finding ways to get it done when they’re getting an opponent’s best shot night after night.

Make no mistake: IU, which has grown exponentially from the team that got crushed by Indiana State and Fort Wayne, played as tough-minded and strong-willed a game as they could possibly muster. (Yeah, yeah, they lost to Illinois, but that was mostly a function of horrendous free-throw shooting. And they weren’t any better Sunday, making 10-of-17). Morgan was a monster, finishing with 24 points and seven rebounds, inspiring Purdue coach Matt Painter to call him the most improved player he’s seen all season. Robert Johnson, the team’s most skilled offensive player when his game is right, finished with 21 points and six rebounds. The Hoosiers, who looked like Lilliputians next to 7-footers Isaac Haas and Matt Haarms, spent most of the first half pick-and-rolling Purdue to distraction, consistently getting to the hoop and making plays, leading by two points at the half.

“I don’t think anybody left the arena tonight and said those guys didn’t bring it,’’ IU coach Archie Miller said. “I thought we played really, really hard today, so that’s a positive.’’


“The disappointing thing is, it’s about winning,’’ he added.

Purdue, though, had answers, just as they’ve had answers all season except for the twin aberrations in the Bahamas. More important, Purdue had answers on a day when IU was at its best and the Boilers, well, they were struggling. This turned into a possession game, coming down to the final three minutes, at which point, the Boilers made all the plays that needed to be made while IU floundered down the stretch.

“Even though we’re a good 3-point-shooting team, they just didn’t fall today,’’ Vincent Edwards said. “So we had to do the little things.’’

It’s about talent, and it’s about experience. This group has been through the gauntlet. This group has lost games like this in previous years. Not this day, though. Not this year.

“That just comes from being in games and being able to handle some adversity,’’ Painter said. “Everybody has adversity and fails, but you have to be able to learn from it and our guys throughout the years have been able to learn from it.’’

Said P.J. Thompson: “We’re not going to beat everybody by 20 points. IU is probably the toughest place to play in the Big Ten, especially when you’re wearing a black and gold jersey.’’

Here’s why Purdue has every reasonable chance to turn this into a memorable season: The Boilers have an asset nobody else in the country has, and that’s Haas. He’s not just a massive mountain of a man. He is deeply skilled, and those skills are growing with each passing year. Remember just a few short years back when Haas faced double teams and threw the ball into the third row? Remember when Haas would go to the free-throw line and make only half of his attempts? His presence, his growth, makes Purdue what it’s become. Haas not only finished with a career-high-tying 26 points, but he was patient and found the open man when he was double-teamed, and he made all six of his free throws.

Asked about his improvement as a passer, Haas smiled. “I enjoy watching these other guys score when they try to take me away,’’ he said.

The Hoosiers, who desperately could have used their own big man, De’Ron Davis – he’s injured and done for the season – tried everything against Haas. They threw Morgan at him. They tried Freddie McSwain. Justin Smith got some attempts at dealing with the 7-foot-2, 290-pound Haas. They single-covered him and double-covered him and…there were no answers.

Everything is cyclical in sports, and right now, Purdue is enjoying this current cycle, having won three of its last four in Bloomington and five of six overall against the Hoosiers. Haas grew up in Alabama and understands the Alabama-Auburn rivalry, but he’s quickly come to appreciate the white-hot hatred that exists between the two schools in our state.

“I didn’t believe it until I got here,’’ he said. “Then it got turned up a whole new level. I heard some of the things the students were yelling and I thought, `No wonder these (Purdue) guys hate them.’ …On the court, we’re hostile enemies but off the court, we’re pretty good friends with these guys.’’

Before we get much further, we must talk about the Carsen Edwards’ left-handed slam over the posterized Josh Newkirk. It was three years ago that another Boiler, Jon Octeus, brought down Assembly Hall with an ESPN Top Ten slam over Collin Hartman. This one, though, rated right up there, Edwards jumping into the passing lane, flying downcourt and then slamming it with his off-hand.

The Purdue bench erupted, and Painter had to tell his guys to calm down and get back on the bench.

“We’ve seen it before,’’ Vincent Edwards said. “Some people think it’s a shock but it’s not a fluke…The last few games, he’s missed a couple (of dunks), so it was good to see him do that on this stage.’’

Haas, who was on the bench at the time, was among those who had to be restrained.

“He baptized the masses on that one,’’ he said. “Mmmmm.’’

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