BLOOMINGTON – When Indiana and Purdue took the court today, both teams had one important key to success in the first half. The Hoosiers had to get back the physicality and aggressiveness in the paint that they had lacked in a couple of road losses last week, while Purdue had to get off to a better start than it has on the road recently and avoid falling into a deep hole out of which it would be difficult to climb.
For the most part, both teams accomplished their goals. Indiana began the game forcing the ball into center Joey Brunk and power forward Trayce Jackson-Davis in the post. The two IU big men attacked, attacked and attacked again around the rim and won an early victory, drawing two fouls on Purdue forward Evan Boudreaux in the first 2:17. He's been an important piece of Purdue's recent resurgence and although he returned later in the half – showing the confidence coach Matt Painter has in him – he had to play cautiously on defense. Indiana was in the bonus by the 12:07 mark and shot six free throws in the opening half, an area in which it had struggled recently to match its early-season success.
Purdue, meanwhile, started out slowly from the field, missing its first three shots at close range as the Hoosiers took an early lead. Just as it looked like the Boilers were headed for another disastrous beginning, Eric Hunter Jr. made what could turn out to be two of the biggest shots of the day. He nailed back-to-back 3-pointers from the left wing and seemingly helped the Boilermakers breathe a collective sigh of relief in the process. Later, Aaron Wheeler buried a pair of 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to push Purdue in front, part of a 12-0 Boilers run that turned the game around at the end of the half. Wheeler couldn't have hit water if he fell out of a boat for much of the season, but he has found his form recently and is 3 for 3 from long range today. For most of the half, Purdue was efficient from the field and kept Indiana from going on any runs that would have ignited the Assembly Hall crowd. The arena has been loud, but not overwhelming so as the Boilers have neutralized the home-court advantage to some extent. At halftime, Purdue is shooting 52%, while Indiana is at 43%.
The Hoosiers generally ran good offense early and uncharacteristically hit some difficult jump shots. Brunk was strong on the interior and he took advantage of Boudreaux's early foul trouble to bully him a couple of times in the post as the Purdue tried to avoid a third whistle. The Hoosiers are an acceptable 3 for 9 from beyond the 3-point line, as well, another terrific sign for a team that has shot itself out of so many games. The biggest problem for IU has been turnovers. Indiana gave the ball away on three straight possessions midway through the half and Purdue took advantage, attacking the basket on the fast-break and scoring twice. The Boilermakers have 12 points off 10 Indiana turnovers, which partially accounts for their halftime advantage.
For most of the half, it looked like this would be a closely-contested game through, but some sloppy play for the Hoosiers late and hot Purdue shooting turned this into the Boilermakers' game to lose. Indiana desperately needs a spark as Purdue goes into halftime with all the momentum.
As the first half ends, the real fireworks will begin. Indiana is planning to honor its 1980 Big Ten championship team, which reached the Sweet 16 and was No. 1 for three weeks during the season. It has been reported throughout the first half that during this presentation, long-time Hoosiers coach Bob Knight will be recognized on the court, his first appearance at Assembly Hall in nearly two decades.