BLOOMINGTON – Purdue spoiled Bob Knight's return to Assembly Hall, continuing its half-decade dominance of the in-state rivalry against Indiana. The Boilermakers got 12 points from Eric Hunter Jr. and a perfect shooting performance from Aaron Wheeler to overcome 16 points and eight rebounds from the Hoosiers' Trayce Jackson-Davis in a 74-62 win today.
- The General is back: This game was huge for the fortunes of these two teams this season, but it will be most remembered years from now as the moment that a 20-year freeze in the relationship between Knight and the basketball program that he led for 29 years thawed for good. Knight, the five-time national coach of the year, returned to Assembly Hall today for the first time since he was fired in September 2000 and created a scene that will not be soon forgotten in Bloomington or across the college basketball world. With dozens of his former players in attendance and getting recognized at mid-court at halftime, the Hoosiers played a video tribute to Knight's teams, complete with a contemporary sit-down interview with the coach himself. He concluded the video by saying, "The fact that I appreciate the most was that we won." The coach then ambled slowly out on to the court, greeted with chants of "BOB-BY, BOB-BY" from the Assembly Hall faithful. He looked old and worn down, but he embraced a large group of his former players and eventually walked back into the tunnel with arm around his former point guard, Isiah Thomas. Before he did so, he pumped a fist in the air and shouted "Play defense!" at the top of his lungs. It was an emotional moment for everyone.
- Purdue weathered the storm: The re-appearance of Knight could have been a galvanizing moment for the Hoosiers. The crowd went wild and as the second half began, there was a palpable buzz in the arena, with the Indiana faithful ready to explode if Indiana showed signs of erasing its 37-28 halftime deficit. That explosion happened to a point early in the half as Justin Smith drained a 3-pointer and Trayce Jackson-Davis soared above everyone for a thunderous put-back dunk to slice the deficit to 39-33. After that, however, Sasha Stefanovic answered with back-to-back jumpers, including a huge 3-pointer, to make it a double-digit margin again. The moment had come and gone for the Hoosiers and they faced an uphill battle the rest of the afternoon that proved too much to overcome.
- Purdue's shooting touch goes on the road: The Boilermakers made 19 3-pointers in a win over Iowa on Wednesday, one short of the Big Ten record. They've struggled shooting on the road for much of the season, but today they found their rhythm away from home for one of the first times this season. The Boilers went 8 for 16 from beyond the 3-point line and made three in the first 7:01 of the second half to help build a lead that reached as many as 16 points. The contributions came from all over the roster, with Hunter Jr. and Isaiah Thompson draining two apiece and Wheeler coming alive with a 4-for-4 shooting performance, including 3 for 3 from beyond the arc, to finish with 11 points. Wheeler has struggled mightily most of the season, making just 21.8% from downtown coming into the game, after being a key piece in Purdue's NCAA Tournament run last season. He hit a big 3 in the win over Iowa and seems to have regained a good portion of his confidence, as he shot with little hesitation today and was a spark on the floor for the Boilers when they needed some energy.
Player of the Game: Eric Hunter Jr.
Hunter Jr. ran the Purdue offense with aplomb all afternoon, handling the Indiana defense and working the ball to shooters and cutters off the pick-and-roll. He finished 4 for 7 from the field and 2 for 4 from beyond the arc, while adding five rebounds, two assists and two steals to his total. He also played solid defense against Indiana's guards.
Facts and Figures
This was the 210th meeting between the two teams. ... Purdue has won nine of the last 10 games in this series for the first time since it won 13 of 14 from 1929 to 1938. The Boilermakers have won six in a row and all four since Archie Miller became Indiana's head coach. ... The Boilers are 10-2 at Mackey Arena and 4-8 away from West Lafayette. ... Indiana had 14 turnovers and the Boilermakers scored 17 points off those giveaways. ... Indiana came in 13th in the country in average rebound margin at plus-7.7, but were out-rebounded by the Boilers 29-28. ... Purdue shot 24 free throws to 14 for Indiana. ... Race Thompson returned to action for the Hoosiers, taking the floor for the first time after missing the previous three games because of a hard fall he took against Michigan State. He played eight minutes and had one rebound. ... At halftime, Indiana honored its 1980 team that won the Big Ten championship and was ranked No. 1 in the nation for three weeks during the season. The team featured five All-Americans, including Isiah Thomas and Mike Woodson, and 12 eventual NBA draft picks. ... Long-time Purdue coach Gene Keady, who led the Boilers from 1980 to 2005, attended the game. Among those also in attendance were Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and ESPN personality Sage Steele, both prominent Indiana alumni.
Indiana: The Hoosiers are back in action Thursday, when they welcome No. 17 Iowa (16-7, 7-5 Big Ten) to Assembly Hall. The game will tip off at 8 p.m. and will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network. The Hawkeyes got ripped apart at Purdue on Wednesday, losing 104-68, but boast the Big Ten Player of the Year front-runner in 6-foot-11 Luka Garza. They play Nebraska tonight in their final matchup before they travel to Bloomington.
Purdue: The Boilermakers return to the court Tuesday, when No. 22 Penn State (17-5, 7-4) visits Mackey Arena. The game will tip off at 6:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network. The Nittany Lions have won five in a row, including a road win over 16th-ranked Michigan State their last time out, and face Minnesota this afternoon before playing Purdue.