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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, March 03, 2018 3:00 pm

Pregame: No. 8 Purdue (27-5) vs. Penn State (21-12)

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

It wasn't pretty last night against an inspired Rutgers team, but Purdue is on to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. Today the third-seeded Boilermakers will face No. 7 seed Penn State, after the Nittany Lions upset second-seeded Ohio State Friday. 

Penn State winning is a bit of bad luck for the Boilers, which now will not get a rematch against the Buckeyes. They won't have a chance to avenge the loss at the buzzer against Ohio State that was their only defeat at Mackey Arena this season. In addition, it gives them one fewer chance at a victory over an elite team that would impress the selection committee when its doling out No. 1 seeds. Purdue was always a long shot to move on to the top line; it probably had to beat both the Buckeyes and Michigan State in the final to get there, but its chances certainly took a hit last night.

Still, the Boilermakers will not be able to simply show up and expect an easy path to the tournament championship game on Sunday. Penn State is on the cusp of an NCAA Tournament bid after its third victory of the season against Ohio State, and a victory over the No. 8 Boilers would likely put it over the top. A loss could leave it on the outside looking in. ESPN's Joe Lunardi had the Nittany Lions among his "First Four Out" after their win last night.

So Penn State is a desperate team and it has played like it in the first two rounds. The Nittany Lions shot less than 38 percent from the field last night and still managed to win against one of the top 15 teams in the country, mostly because of the brilliance of Tony Carr. The sophomore guard, the leading scorer in the Big Ten this season, scored 25 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished off five assists against the Buckeyes. 

Penn State eventually won 69-68 and the final play illustrates the biggest problem teams face in trying to stop Carr. In the final seconds, he dribbled inside the top of the key, drawing a crowd of Buckeye defenders. As they converged on him, he whipped a pass to teammate Lamar Stevens for a game-winning dunk. Carr can score in bunches, but he's also a talented passer and his teammates have become adept at cutting to the hoop for easy baskets when defenses focus too much attention on the leading scorer.

In the first matchup between these teams, which Purdue won 76-73 in Mackey Arena on Feb. 18, the Boilers did a good job of containing Carr, who went just 8 for 22 from the field. He also only shot one free throw, a testament to how disciplined Purdue's defense was in defending him in the lane. If they can repeat that performance, they'll be in good shape.

What I'm watching for: Vincent Edwards' ankle. Edwards was fantastic last night, scoring 26 points on just 14 shots and playing excellent defense for 37 minutes. Now the question is: does he have enough left in the tank for another game less than 18 hours after the previous one ended? Edwards seems to be past the injury that kept him out for two games, but there's no telling how the ankle will respond on that little time to rest. It's possible he's less than 100 percent this afternoon.

Prediction: Penn State 71, Purdue 67