The Journal Gazette
Saturday, December 04, 2021 1:50 am

Purdue wins ugly against pesky Iowa

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

WEST LAFAYETTE – Purdue coach Matt Painter wondered Tuesday how his team, which had shot the lights out all season, would fare if shots stopped falling for a night.

"Can we beat a good team when the ball doesn't go in?" Painter asked. "You want to shoot well, but that's part of basketball, the ball doesn't always go in. Can we be good enough in other areas?"

The 17th-year Purdue coach got his answer tonight: yes, but it'll be a struggle. The Boilermakers put together their worst offensive performance – that's, of course, a relative term, they still shot 8 for 19 from 3-point range and scored 77 points – of the season, but managed to pull out a 77-70 win in the Big Ten opener against a game Iowa team playing without its best player in Keegan Murray, the second-leading scorer in the country.

The Boilers staved off a late comeback that they helped along with a bad string of turnovers. In all, Purdue turned the ball over 17 times and Iowa scored 20 points off those miscues. Being loose with the ball is quickly becoming something of an Achilles heel for the Boilermakers' otherwise-explosive offense, who came into the game scoring 92.4 points per contest.

Iowa's defense had plenty to do with Purdue's offensive struggles (the Boilermakers also shot just 42% from the field after coming into the game as the No. 1 team in the country in field goal percentage at nearly 55%). The Hawkeyes utilized a full-court zone press that melted into a man-to-man defense in the halfcourt. It's the second straight team, after Florida State, that has tried to press the Boilermakers and both had success. Although the Hawkeyes and Seminoles are pressure teams by nature, Purdue will likely see plenty of press going forward until it proves it can handle it. 

"I thought (Iowa) did a good job with (the press)," Painter said. "At times we did a good job handling it, but even if they don't turn you over, they're still trying to take some time off the clock. They're trying to stop us from being clean getting into our stuff. Then we have to be able to make better decisions off that. 

"I would expect somebody to watch that film (and use pressure). ... This is a really good learning lesson for us. Most times, in basketball, when you learn these lessons, you lose. Hopefully we learned a hard lesson here while still winning."

Purdue was challenged for the first time all season at Mackey Arena, though for much of the second half, it looked as though the absence of Murray would be far too much for the Hawkeyes to overcome. The Boilermakers opened their lead to as many as 19 points when Jaden Ivey poured in eight of his 19 in one 3-minute stretch. But Iowa responded and cut the lead to as few as two twice in the final minutes.

With the score 72-70 and 2:32 to go, the Boilers were on their heels. They had turned the ball over against the press three times in the span of a minute and Iowa's offense was scoring at will. It was a hairy moment, but Ivey delivered with a huge driving layup, Trevion Williams came up with two huge rebounds and the crisis was averted. Letting a 19-point lead nearly get away is never a positive outcome, but the Boilermakers stood tall in a big spot for the third time in eight games this season. They've found ways to win close in addition to the blowouts where they look like world-beaters.

"As a coach, you want to get in as many close games as you can, if you can win them," Painter said. "You don't want to get into close games and lose them, but if you can get in close games and win them, that really helps you. The end of the North Carolina game, the end of the Villanova game, the end of this game, all of them were different. This was definitely the most physical game we've played so far. I thought Iowa was very physical. ... We were able to weather the storm."

For all of the attention Purdue's struggling offense got, it was in large part the defense that won this game for the Boilermakers. It held the No. 1 scoring offense in the country to just 40% shooting (27% in the first half) and 24 points less than its season average. Yes, missing Murray hurt, but Iowa, with all its weapons, went the final 2:32 without a point, missing seven straight shots to close the game.

Still, Painter is not close to satisfied with his team's performance on that end of the floor.

"I thought we were just OK, to be frank with you," Painter said. "I've thought we've been just OK all year. We have to get better defensively, we have too many lapses. ... Our defense will be good in stretches, but we're not consistent enough. I know I'm sounding like an old, crusty coach here, but that's just my opinion."

Painter might sound like an old, crusty coach, but whatever he's saying and doing seems to be working. With the win, the Boilermakers climbed to 8-0 and are poised to capture, for the first time in program history, the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll. Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey endorsed the Boilers for that position.

"They deserve to be No. 1," the longtime Hawkeyes coach said. "They can hurt you in so many different ways. They have depth, they have experience, they have size, they have shooters, they have gamers. They battle you, they execute their stuff. ... It's going to be a hard team to beat."


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