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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, February 25, 2018 5:10 pm

Halftime thoughts: Purdue vs. Minnesota

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

WEST LAFAYETTE — Anyone who watched the first game between these teams had to know that what happened at the beginning of this game was a possibility. Purdue used an early 15-2 run to take a 16-point lead and seemed to be on the verge of running away with the game before halftime. Few would have predicted what happened next, however.

Facing a 20-plus-point deficit in the first 10 minutes of the game, Minnesota steadied itself, using a 10-0 run to slice the lead to just five. The Gophers trail just 37-29 at the half. During the run, Purdue missed seven straight shots from the field. A Nate Mason 3-pointer forced Matt Painter burn a timeout with 5:56 left in the half, as what had been a raucous crowd had turned subdued.

Part of the problem was what I discussed before the game began, the re-insertion of Vincent Edwards into the lineup. Edwards was active in the half, showing few physical ill effects from his injured ankle, but he was clearly rusty in his first game action in 10 days. He missed his first five shots from the field, including one near air-ball on a 15-foot fadeaway, and finished with only two points in the half. It's not the worst strategy for Purdue to sacrifice some efficiency today for the sake of getting Edwards back up to speed, but he's probably been the primary ball-handler on too many possessions.

Fortunately for the Boilers, they still lead by a somewhat comfortable margin thanks to the continued solid play of Carsen Edwards and Dakota Mathias and a mostly-suffocating defense. Mathias has been an all-around star, scoring eight points and dishing three assists, including a few on nifty pick-and-roll feeds to Isaac Haas and Matt Haarms. The sophomore Edwards scored 12 points in the opening half, picking up where he left off against Illinois. 

On defense, Purdue has made everything difficult for Minnesota outside of the one 10-0 run when the Gophers made five of six shots. Overall, the visitors shot just 39 percent in the half and Purdue blocked six shots, including two from Mathias. It's been one of Purdue's better defensive efforts in recent weeks and it was key to helping the Boilers re-open the lead late in the half.

This game doesn't seem particularly close, but Purdue is only up eight. After playing nine games in a row decided by single digits, it would be helpful if the Boilers could put this game away early in the second half and give their starters some rest late in the game.