WEST LAFAYETTE – Matt Painter spent all season searching for answers to Purdue’s problems.
Suddenly, the Boilermakers seem to have figured it out.
D.J. Byrd and Rapheal Davis each scored 18 points Saturday and A.J. Hammons had a perfect shooting day as Purdue routed Minnesota 89-73.
I really feel that in the last couple of weeks, this is the team you wanted to see in December and January, Painter said after career win No. 200.
It took too long to get to this point, but I’m glad we’re at this point now.
It’s not too late, either.
After upsetting then-No. 17 Wisconsin on the road last Sunday and giving No. 7 Michigan a huge scare Wednesday night, the Boilermakers (15-16, 8-10) will head into the Big Ten tourney seeded sixth, seventh or eighth after dominating Minnesota in almost every conceivable way.
The Boilermakers shot 54.2 percent from the field, 46.7 percent from three-point range, repeatedly beat Minnesota’s full-court press, forced five more turnovers than they committed and even beat the Golden Gophers on the glass. Purdue also finished with a season-high point total, topping the 75-point mark for the first time since Jan. 19 and only the second time since Nov. 16.
The numbers were so impressive that Painter took a quick glance at the stat sheet and noted this is pretty good.
Hammons, the 7-foot freshman center, was 6 of 6 from the field and 2 of 2 from the free-throw line. He finished with 14 points, six rebounds and three blocks.
Davis, the Fort Wayne native and another freshman starter, scored 18 points – his second-highest scoring night of the season behind only a 21-point outing against Notre Dame in December.
And Byrd, one of two seniors playing his regular-season home finale, had 18 points, seven rebounds, five blocks and two steals – easily his best game of the season and his best scoring night at Mackey Arena this season, too.
I did miss that free throw, so that was a little frustrating, Byrd joked after topping the 17 points he had against West Virginia in a January home game. I just tried to play aggressive, keep my guy off the glass, get rebounds and tried to hit the open guy. That’s all.
Yes, the Boilermakers’ confidence is bubbling as they head to Chicago for the conference tournament, and after that a likely spot in one of the postseason tournaments.
As Minnesota found out Saturday, this is not a team anybody wants to face in the next couple of weeks.
They’re playing with heart, they’re playing with toughness like all Matt Painter and Gene Keady teams do and you have to match that intensity, Gophers coach Tubby Smith said. And now, they’ve figured out what they do best, which is taking you off the dribble.
For the Gophers (20-11, 8-10), it was another miserable weekend on the road.
Minnesota has lost four of its last six overall and eight straight road games since beating Illinois on Jan. 9.
In between, Smith has seen the good – five wins over Top 25 teams including the Feb. 26 upset of No. 1 Indiana – and the inexplicable such as a 19-point loss at Iowa and the blowout in West Lafayette.