WEST LAFAYETTE – Purdue came into tonight's matchup against No. 17 Iowa making just 33% of its 3-pointers this season. It's been even worse during the Big Ten season, knocking down only 30%, the 11th-best rate in the league.
A team that shoots that way for three months shouldn't be able to go 19 for 34 from beyond the 3-point line, even on its best night, but that's exactly what the Boilermakers did in their 104-68 beatdown of the shell-shocked Hawkeyes. Purdue came within one 3 of tying the Big Ten record (which the Boilermakers set in January 2018) and shot 63% from the field overall.
Purdue has been a relatively poor offensive team most of the season – when it has won, it has generally won with defense – but something happens to the Boilermakers when a good team comes to Mackey Arena. We've seen it four times this season, against Michigan State, Virginia, Wisconsin and now Iowa, a team that had been red-hot. In these games, Purdue plays like a Final Four contender, rolling energy, toughness, offensive execution and defensive poise into one package that makes the Mackey faithful lose its collective mind and intimidates opponents.
"It's really fun," forward Evan Boudreaux said of games like this. "I think we have some of the best fans in the country and they fill this place every night, so when we get rolling and this place is rocking, it's hard to beat any environment like this. We feed into that and we love it. It makes the game just that much more fun."
Boudreaux was terrific tonight, pouring in 18 points on 4 of 6 from the 3-point line and grabbing eight rebounds while helping hold Iowa star Luka Garza to only one. The Dartmouth transfer's emergence as a dangerous third big man for the Boilermakers, the type of modern stretch 4 that makes many NBA offenses hum, has helped Purdue's offensive ceiling climb a level, as tonight's game demonstrated. With his ability to shoot from the outside, score on drives to the basket and make smart passes, the Boilermakers' perimeter players have more open looks when he's on the floor.
Purdue has now won two games in a row for the first time since Jan. 2 and the first time all season in Big Ten play. Boudreaux has been central to the team's recent turnaround, as has guard Jahaad Proctor. The High Point transfer, playing what will be his only season at Purdue, scored 26 points in the season-opener against Green Bay, but had been something of a forgotten man in the middle of the season, averaging only 12.8 minutes in five games from Jan. 5 to Jan. 21. The last three times out, however, he's averaging 26.3 minutes and 14.3 points, including a 15-point performance tonight on 6-for-6 shooting. He said he got back to being himself recently and is using basketball as a "sanctuary" from any outside noise.
"I came here to win games, go to the tournament and where we're at right now, we're borderline whether we're going to make it or not," Proctor said. "I don't want to be the team that doesn't go, because I came here for a reason and I know the other guys want to go, as well. Second half of the season, it's just time to focus in and just do what we have to do."
Proctor sparked the Boilermakers in the first half tonight, hitting back-to-back 3-pointers near the 9-minute mark that turned an 12-point lead into an 18-point margin. The first of those two came from deep in the corner, with a hand in his face as the shot clock wound down. When that one went in, it was clear it was going to be a special night for the Boilermakers.
"(Proctor) is really big (for us)," Boudreaux said. "I think he's done a great job of not just scoring the ball, but really helping teammates out and making plays for other guys. That gets the whole team going.
"(Proctor and I) are both seniors now and we only have 10, 11, 12, 13 games left so we can't really wait anymore, so it's great to see him get back to the way he is."
Now, the million-dollar question: why can't Purdue take this type of performance on the road? Why do the Boilermakers play at Mackey like a team capable of winning a national championship and then turn around and play like a team that shouldn't sniff the NIT when they leave West Lafayette? Every time they've had one of these otherwordly performances this season, it's been closely followed by a listless loss on the road. With a game against Indiana in Bloomington looming on Saturday, Purdue would like nothing more than to break that pattern.
For coach Matt Painter, the key to winning on the road is finding ways to create offense when shots aren't falling. The Boilermakers have shot well at home this season (not as well as tonight, but well enough overall), but have been abysmal on the road. When their shots don't fall away from home, offense becomes very difficult.
"You've gotta be able to generate some points somewhere else (other than outside shooting) on the road," Painter said. "You've gotta get in transition and score the basketball, you've gotta get on the glass and score the basketball. You've gotta be able to steal points in some capacity and if you can't, it gets too hard against a good defensive team. ... That's been hard for us, but it's also been hard for a lot of other Big Ten teams."