FORT WAYNE – Purdue coach Matt Painter said he hopes his teams most dominant win in Big Ten play is just the start to a strong finish.
The Boilermakers (15-10, 5-7) throttled rival Indiana 82-64 Saturday, and they play host to conference co-leader No. 13 Michigan State (21-5, 10-3) tonight.
Any time you can have a good win like we did Saturday, you want to be able to build on it, Painter said. This is an important game for both teams. Hopefully, we can keep our focus on our next opponent and continue to make improvements.
Painter is also confident his team will not get caught looking ahead even though the final five games of the season could raise the Boilermakers chances to land in a postseason tournament.
After Michigan State, Purdue plays Sunday at Nebraska, which upset the Spartans 60-51 last weekend, then the Boilermakers face No. 20 Michigan on Wednesday, No. 15 Iowa on March 1 and No. 16 Wisconsin on March 5 before finishing the season against Northwestern on March 9.
No matter what the scenario is ,you have to keep your focus in the moment and that next game, Painter said. Michigan State is a very good team. I dont know how you could not be locked into them.
Michigan State is also a healthier team coming in.
The Spartans will still be without forward Braden Dawson because of a broken right wrist. The Gary native has averaged 15.8 points and 7 rebounds in four games against the Boilermakers.
But guard Keith Appling, who struggled through 19 minutes against Nebraska as he returned from a right wrist injury, appears healthy again after a strong practice Tuesday, according to the Detroit Free Press. Appling averages 14.4 points and 4.7 assists.
Michigan State also has a healthy Adreian Payne. The forward missed seven games with a foot injury and has averaged 18.3 points and 9.8 rebounds since returning in a win over Penn State on Feb. 6.
Theyve won some really good games and not had all the bullets in their gun, and they still dont, Painter said. They keep plugging, and they are still on top of the league, thats a credit to them.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo also said his team cannot overlook Purdue, even with a showdown with co-conference leader Michigan coming up Sunday.
I think Purdue has been a funny team this year, Izzo said. The one thing that (Painters) teams do is they play so hard all the time. I think he has changed some things from the (former Purdue coach Gene) Keady era, but the one thing hes kept is those teams play hard and physical.
They are coming off maybe one of their best wins, and if you look at their year, theyve lost some close games. Theyve been right there.
Note: Purdue will honor former Boilermakers star Glenn Robinson tonight, and the first 3,000 fans will receive Robinson bobbleheads.