The Journal Gazette
Friday, January 08, 2021 1:00 am

Boilers face Spartans on 3rd stop of 4-game trip

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Purdue has not played four straight road games in more than 60 years.

That will change in the coming week as the postponement of Tuesday's game against Nebraska because of coronavirus cases within the Cornhuskers' program means the Boilermakers will play four straight on the road for the first time since 1959-60. They will go 24 days between home games.

After losing on the road to No. 14 Rutgers and No. 15 Illinois last week, the Boilermakers have a third straight Top  25 road matchup tonight in East Lansing to face No. 23 Michigan State, a team that seems to be hitting its stride after a slow start to Big Ten play.

“When you look at your schedule, everyone's going to have a tough stretch at some point,” Boilermakers coach Matt Painter said. “Some may be a little bit tougher than others. ... This was one of those for us where we were going to have four out of five road games and now we're going to have four straight road games. It's part of it. You have to be able to roll with it. We're just fortunate we're able to play.”

The loss of the Nebraska game drives home the point that, in this pandemic-affected season, the schedule can change and players need to be adaptable. Players also now know that, just because the start of the season was relatively free of cancellations, they can't get lax in their precautions and social distancing away from the court.

“We're just making sure that we're staying safe and not jeopardizing others by getting sick,” Purdue guard Sasha Stefanovic said. “It's just trying to stay away from unnecessary things that we don't need to be doing at this moment. That's something we need to take from other teams getting games postponed or put on pause.

“If it can happen to another Big Ten team, it can happen to us.”

Instead of hosting the Cornhuskers, the Boilermakers took Tuesday off. Painter said he wanted to give his team rest because it had been having longer practices recently. When the Boilers reconvened Wednesday, however, Painter was disappointed because the workout after the off-day was not particularly good, in his view.

“That's sometimes a byproduct of youth or a byproduct of immaturity,” the coach said. “We weren't that good. ... It's a thing that you deal with when you give a day off. You've helped them physically ... but can you stay on edge, can you be mentally ready to practice after that day off and we just weren't. Hopefully (Thursday) we can have a better practice to get ready for Michigan State.”

Michigan State, ranked as high as No. 4 at the start of the conference season, was at one point in the league's basement – Spartans coach Tom Izzo said his team “didn't look at all like a Michigan State basketball team” after a 79-65 loss to Northwestern – but has started to climb out with victories over Nebraska and 15th-ranked Rutgers.

The latter was particularly impressive, as Michigan State out-toughed one of the Big Ten's toughest teams, outrebounding the Scarlet Knights 43-21 and holding them to 30.5% shooting Tuesday.

“They definitely played their best defensive game of the year,” Painter said of the Spartans' win.

Michigan State is deep. No player averages more than 30 minutes. Forward Aaron Henry leads the way with 14 points per game and Foster Loyer, brother of Homestead guard and Purdue commit Fletcher Loyer, averages 5.6 points.

Purdue at Michigan State

When: 7 p.m. today

Where: Breslin Center, East Lansing, Mich.

Records: Purdue (7-5, 2-3 Big Ten), No. 23 Michigan State (8-3, 2-3)

TV: Fox Sports 1

Radio: 1380 AM, 100.9 FM

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