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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, February 22, 2018 9:20 pm

No. 9 Purdue 93, Illinois 86: Quick thoughts

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

How it Happened

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The Illini (13-17, 3-14 Big Ten) came out on fire in the first half, hitting six of seven shots during one early stretch and taking an 18-13 lead after an incredibly fast-paced first six minutes. This was not a typical Illinois game, at least in the opening half, as there were only nine fouls called between the teams. The game was well-played for the most part without the usual stop-and-start nature that permeates most Fighting Illini games this season.

Midway through the half, Purdue (25-5, 14-3 Big Ten) caught fire from the field, hitting eight shots in a row mostly on a combination of Carsen Edwards drives to the hoop and Dakota Mathias 3-pointers. Edwards was unstoppable for most of the half getting to the basket, and he recognized it. His decision-making was impeccable as each drive came with little help at the rim. Meanwhile Mathias hit his first five shots from the field, including his first three 3-pointers. The pair combined for 28 points in the opening half and helped Purdue open up a 40-28 lead with 4:17 to go in the half.

In the final four minutes, however, Purdue's struggles playing with a lead crept back in. After an Illinois timeout, the Boilers went more than three minutes without a field goal and the ball stopped moving as well as it had minutes earlier. A pair of Illinois 3s closed the gap and another 3-pointer at the end-of-half buzzer nearly sliced the lead further, but was waved off as coming a split second after the horn. The Boilers led just 43-38 at the break, despite shooting 57 percent from the field in the half.

The early moments of the second half were characterized by renewed Illinois pressure and a further tightening of the score. When junior forward Leron Black stole the ball and threw down a huge dunk in transition, the Illinois crowd sensed its team was really back into the game. It reached its highest pitch of the game to that point over the next several minutes as Purdue played a little bit tentatively on offense. The Boilers turned the ball over twice in the first four minutes of the half and the Illini capitalized, cutting their deficit to only two at 50-48 with 16 minutes left.

Illinois briefly went in front at one juncture, 54-53, but Edwards would not be denied on this night. He hit a mid-range jumper to put Purdue back in front and later drilled a pull-up 3 from 25 feet to give his team a 59-56 advantage. The latter basket set off an 8-0 Boilermaker run that put them back in control of the game. Edwards sat down for a rest after his 3-pointer, a well-deserved break after he kept his team in front during a crucial stretch when it looked the game might get away.

Illinois stayed within striking distance the rest of the night, but Edwards always scored when his team really needed a basket. The fouls piled up for both teams in the second half, although Purdue had a large advantage in free throw attempts (31-10) despite playing on the road. Purdue really put the game away when Edwards reversed the ball to Mathias for a corner 3 with less than three minutes to go. The basket extended the lead to 84-75 and turned out to be decisive.

Player of the Game: Carsen Edwards

Edwards was equally effective driving to the hoop and shooting from the outside in this game. In the first half, he made a 28-foot 3-pointer and slammed home a huge one-handed dunk; that combination is a decent illustration of his night. The sophomore finished with a career-high 40 points on 11 for 19 from the field and 4 of 8 from deep. 12 of those points came in the first seven minutes of the second, helping deflect Illinois' best chance to take control of the game. He added five rebounds and three assists for good measure.

Tip-Ins

Purdue wins its 14th Big Ten game for the second straight season, the 13th team in league history to accomplish the feat. ... Edwards scored in double figures for the 13th consecutive game and had 20 or more for the fourth time in the last five games. ... Purdue shot 58 percent from the field, including 48 percent on 3-pointers (11 for 23). ...The Boilermakers were again without Vincent Edwards, the team's leading rebounder and second-leading scorer. Fort Wayne native Grady Eifert got his second straight start in the senior's place. ... Purdue wins on the road for the first time since Feb. 3 against Rutgers. The Boilers finish the season 8-2 in true road games. ... Purdue outrebounded its opponent for the first time in 11 games, dominating 33-20 on the glass. ...Black led Illinois with 28 points. It was the fourth straight game he's scored at least 20. 

What's Next?

The Boilermakers are back in action for their regular-season finale Sunday at Mackey Arena against Minnesota (15-15, 4-13). The game will tip off at 4 p.m. and will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1. The Boilermakers routed the Golden Gophers in Minneapolis 81-47 on Jan. 13. It was the 13th of Purdue's 19 straight victories, as four Boilermakers scored in double figures. Vincent Edwards led the way with 25 points.

dsinn@jg.net