CHAMPAIGN, Illinois – Sasha Stefanovic scored 22 points, including 19 in the second half and overtime, and added eight rebounds, Zach Edey had 20 points and eight rebounds and the No. 4 Boilermakers escaped from the State Farm Center with a fiercely-contested double-overtime 96-88 victory over No. 17 Illinois this afternoon.
Illinois center Kofi Cockburn, a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate, had 10 points on 3-for-9 shooting, fouled out early in the first overtime and the Illini (13-4, 6-1 Big Ten) lost for the first time in conference play, moving Purdue (15-2, 4-2) within 1 1/2 games of the league lead.
- The swagger traveled ... for a while: After Purdue's win over Nebraska on Friday at Mackey Arena, guard Jaden Ivey noted his team had been playing with "swagger" in recent games, an attitude and edge it lacked through much of December and the early part of January. But of course, it's easier to have that swagger against Nebraska and Penn State, two teams who will likely finish near the bottom of the Big Ten standings. Illinois was always going to be a more difficult test of Purdue's new-found attitude, but the Boilermakers passed it, at least in the first half. They played with passion and energy on the defensive end and cleaned the glass against one of the best rebounding teams in the country, a very welcome sign after struggling to do so against some smaller teams earlier in the Big Ten schedule. They held the Illini to 31% shooting, and forced nine straight misses to end the opening period, during which the Boilers unleashed a game-changing 17-2 run to take a 37-26 lead into the locker room. Purdue did a much better job of keeping opposing guards out of the paint than it has in recent games and Illinois often had to settle for contested 3s. In th second half, however, the Boilers returned to some of their worst habits, struggling to contain the dribble on the perimeter and giving Illinois guards opportunities to shoot uncontested 6-10-foot jumpers. On more than one occasion in the second half, Purdue's defense left coach Matt Painter shaking his head. The Illini shot 42% for the game and despite that overall solid number, the Boilers still have plenty of work to do on that end of the court. The consistency is not there yet and they couldn't get a stop when they really needed one at the end of regulation or the first overtime.
- The maturation of a big man: In a battle of some of the best centers in the country, the 7-foot-4 Edey came up head and shoulders above Illinois' Cockburn. The pair battled repeatedly in the post and while Edey found Cockburn difficult to dislodge (he is 7-0, 285 pounds after all), he was able to go over and around him to finish repeatedly at the rim. Edey used both hands, worked hard to get good post position and made Cockburn defend on nearly every possession. The gambit worked and Cockburn picked up his fourth foul just 2:30 into the second half, leaving Illinois without its Big Ten Player of the Year candidate for a long stretch. On defense, Edey was mostly able to play without fouling and although he gave up a few baskets to the Illinois center, he also forced several contested misses and made Cockburn's life difficult around the rim, executing the Purdue gameplan about as well as could be expected. Cockburn is widely considered one of the best centers in the country, but Edey thoroughly out-played him. His maturation from part-time weapon last season to full-time difference-maker this year was on full display.
- Quality over quantity: Purdue did not have a particularly good game shooting the ball from 3-point range. The Boilers made just eight such shots in 50 minutes, less than their average of 9.9 in 40, which ranks 22nd in the country. But the 3s Purdue did make were some of the biggest shots of the game. In the first half, the Fighting Illini embarked on a 10-0 run to go in front 24-20. Purdue, which had missed six shots in a row, answered with back-to-back 3s from Isaiah Thompson and Brandon Newman to kick-start the 17-2 run. Early in the second half, Illinois grabbed the momentum and went on a 9-3 run to close within 40-37 before Stefanovic buried a 3 from the top of the key to quiet the crowd. The Illini then got rolling again and used an 8-0 run to knot the score at 49, during which Purdue missed six shots in a row and lost all offensive momentum. It was a dark moment for the Boilers and Illinois felt inevitable as the crowd rained down noise. Instead of folding, Purdue answered with three 3s in quick succession, one from Eric Hunter Jr. and two from Stefanovic, to rebuild the lead to nine. Stefanovic celebrated both of his 3s with a finger in the air as the crowd silenced. The fifth-year senior added another huge 3-pointer off a kick-out pass with 2:45 left that put Purdue in front 65-58. Finally, at the start of the second overtime, Stefanovic calmly buried a corner 3 to put Purdue ahead and then got fouled shooting another 3 Stefanovic finished 5 of 8 from 3-point range. When it mattered most, Purdue found a way to hit shots, even if it couldn't really stop Illinois from doing so.
Player of the Game: Zach Edey
Edey came into the game No. 1 in the country in field goal percentage at 71.3% and went 9 for 14 today. He registered two blocks and a steal and posted his second straight 20-point performance and fourth in the last five games. With Trevion Williams struggling to a 6-for-18 performance from the field (though he made some huge plays in the second overtime to help cinch the victory), Purdue needed Edey to come through and he was the best player on the floor most of the afternoon.
The Boilermakers beat a ranked team for the first time since Nov. 21, when it topped then-No. 5 Villanova. They are 3-1 against ranked teams this season and have won 27 such games since the start of 2016-17, tied with North Carolina for seventh in the country. ... Both teams featured a Fort Wayne native: Purdue forward Caleb Furst, a Blackhawk Christian graduate, grabbed two rebounds, while Illinois guard Luke Goode, a Homestead product, had three points on 1-for-2 shooting. The pair are long-time friends and former AAU teammates. ... Illinois point guard Andre Curbelo played for the first time since Nov. 23. He missed the previous seven weeks because of a concussion but returned to score 20 points and grab six rebounds. ... Ivey went 3 for 10 from the field, but 13 of 15 at the foul line for 19 points. ... Stefanovic's five 3s moved him past Cuonzo Martin and into sole possession of 10th place on the all-time Boilers list. ... These teams came into the game ranked Nos. 2 and 3 in the country in average rebound margin. Second-ranked Illinois was at plus-13.3, while No. 3 Purdue was plus-12.7. The Boilermakers out-rebounded the Illini 46-39. Cockburn came into the game leading the Big Ten in rebounding with 12.3 per contest (no one else is averaging double figures) and had five today. ... Purdue has won 111 straight games when scoring at least 90 points, a streak that stretches back to 1987. ... Purdue wore special Martin Luther King Jr. shooting shirts during warmups. The players autographed the shirts after the game and the shirts will be auctioned off online, with proceeds going to Purdue's Black Cultural Center on campus.
The Boilermakers are back in action Thursday, when they travel to Bloomington to face in-state rival Indiana (12-4, 3-3 Big Ten) at Assembly Hall. The game will tip off at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1. It will be the Boilers' first time taking on new Indiana coach Mike Woodson, who played for the Hoosiers from 1977 to 1980. Previous IU coach Archie Miller went 0-7 against Purdue and the Boilermakers have won nine straight in the series, the longest streak for either team since 1955 and the longest for Purdue since 1935.