CHAMPAIGN, Illinois – The officials are letting Purdue and Illinois play.
In this matchup between two of the bigger, more physical teams in the country, the first foul was not called until 5:27 had gone by in the game. That permitted some all-world battles in the post between Indiana's Kofi Cockburn and Purdue's Zach Edey and Trevion Williams. Edey owned the early part of the game, putting up four points plus a block and a steal before the under-16 timeout and generally frustrating Cockburn, who is likely not used to facing a player four inches taller than he is. That early flurry helped the Boilers build a seven-point lead and they're up 37-26 at halftime. Edey now has 14 points on of 7 from the field, while Cockburn has eight points on 2-for-5 shooting.
Despite the presence of an All-American center clogging the middle for Illinois, Purdue clearly decided its best strategy was to feed the post as often as possible in an effort to get Cockburn in foul trouble. Cockburn played carefully on defense and didn't pick up his first foul until more than 10 minutes had passed, but that careful play also gave Edey a tiny bit of room to maneuver in the post. The 7-foot-4 sophomore worked hard to get position and harder to get into shooting range, going strong and finishing with both hands. The matchup in the middle has lived up to its billing so far and then some. Cockburn later picked up his second foul as he tried to go through Williams for a rebound. It was easily the cheapest foul of the half, possibly a sign the game will be called more closely in the second half.
Trevion Williams, meanwhile, also got to Cockburn for a basket from the post, but played more often when the Illinois center was off the court. Williams was not quite as effective as Edey when he did get post-up opportunities, missing three times on good looks against back-up Illini center Omar Payne. The Purdue senior then exchanged testy words nose-to-nose with Payne after Illini big man got tangled up with Purdue's Sasha Stefanovic. Payne appeared to elbow Stefanovic in the head as he tried to clear space for himself on the perimeter. The play resulted in a flagrant foul on Payne and then a double technical on Payne and Williams.
Missing good looks was a theme for Purdue during a 10-0 Fighting Illini run that changed the tenor of the game just past the midway point of the half. The Boilers missed six straight field goal attempts, including Williams' three, and missed 3s from Stefanovic, Jaden Ivey and Thompson before Thompson buried a shot from outside to end the 5:01 field-goal drought and bring Purdue within 24-23. That 3 kicked off an 17-0 answer run for the Boilers that included two more baskets from Edey after Cockburn had gone to the bench with his pair of fouls. Illinois has no answer for the starting Purdue center.
As for the Fort Wayne element of this game, Homestead's Luke Goode and Blackhawk Christian's Caleb Furst each saw the court for a few minutes in the first half and Goode drilled a big 3 for the Illini. The former AAU teammates did not share the court.
This game is there for Purdue. The Boilers had the best player on the court in Edey and it's likely the Illini will make some halftime adjustments to limit the dominating Purdue center. Edey picked up his second foul late in the first half when he bit on a Cockburn pump fake, so he'll have to play carefully in the second half, but he has exuded confidence all afternoon and the Boilermakers' path to victory likely involves plenty of Edey post-ups and the same strong defense they displayed in the first half, when they held the Illini to 31% shooting.