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The Journal Gazette

Friday, March 02, 2018 1:00 am

Boilers still have much to play for

Pride, NCAA seeding keeps Purdue focused

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Purdue

vs. Rutgers

When: 9 p.m. today

Where: Madison Square Garden, New York

Records: Purdue (26-5),Rutgers (15-18)

TV: Big Ten Network

Radio: 1380 AM

Purdue was one of the few teams in the Big Ten that had already clinched a spot in the NCAA Tournament heading into the conference tournament in New York this week.

That doesn't mean the No. 8 Boilers have nothing to play for in Madison Square Garden. They're still jostling for seeding in the NCAA field and have an opportunity to redeem themselves after an early exit in last year's tournament.

“Coach (Matt) Painter's communicated to us like, 'Hey our goals are still there,'?” center Isaac Haas said Wednesday. “If you still want to hang a banner this year, then you gotta win the tournament. Plus you have a chance to be a No. 1 seed (in the NCAA Tournament) and those are our goals right now.”

The Boilermakers (26-5) earned the No. 3 seed in this tournament and one of the four double byes into the quarterfinals. They will face No. 14 seed Rutgers, which beat No. 6 seed Indiana on Thursday night.

The lack of a definite opponent until so late in the process makes preparing for this game different than others, according to Painter. Still, the keys to victory will remain the same.

“You don't know who your first opponent is, so there's really nothing to talk about except yourself,” Painter said. “You've got to do a good job rebounding the basketball. We handed out some rebounding statistics individually (to the players), just trying to get our guys to understand how important that's going to be for us.”

Rebounding has been a problem area for Purdue in recent months, but it improved in its final two games of the season. The Boilermakers outrebounded Illinois and Minnesota to close out the season after failing to win the battle on the boards in 10 straight games.

Purdue is looking to avoid a repeat of last season, when it entered the conference tournament as the top seed but promptly lost in the quarterfinals against eighth-seeded Michigan. The Wolverines went on to win the tournament.

Painter said during his radio show Monday that his team is well aware of how motivated its first opponent will be.

“Some (teams) if (they lose), they're going home, some people if they don't win they're going to the NIT,” he said.

“So it's a do-or-die thing and people are playing for keeps. You've got to play well, you've got to be competitive, you've got to have a real fight to you.”

In order to fend off challenges from desperate opponents looking to prolong their seasons, the Boilers might need a few more performances from sophomore Carsen Edwards such as the two he turned in last week.

The guard earned Big Ten and national Player of the Week honors after scoring a career-high 40 points against Illinois and following it up with an 18-point, seven-assist night against Minnesota. Edwards has been the breakout star of the second half of the conference season and was named to the All-Big Ten first team Monday.

Edwards seemed unruffled by the bevy of honors.

“It's a good feeling,” he said of the awards. “I just got to keep playing, be consistent. I'm really just trying to help my team win. I believe when I do the things that help my team win, things like (the awards) will come.”

dsinn@jg.net