Purdue completed a grueling stretch of four straight road games – the longest road trip for the Boilermakers since 1959-60 – with a victory Thursday over Indiana.
The Boilermakers completed the trip 2-2, having also defeated No. 23 Michigan State, and their reward is now a demanding stretch of three games in six days. They will play at Mackey Arena today for the first time in more than three weeks, against Penn State, one of two winless teams in the Big Ten.
Purdue coach Matt Painter has cautioned his team it can't relax.
“You win a couple games on the road and that's great, but you go home and nothing's guaranteed that you're going to win,” Painter said. “Just like we won those two (road) games, somebody can come in (to Mackey Arena) and beat us. You have to go home and try to build off the success you've had in the past week and you want to keep it going.”
Purdue had beaten the Nittany Lions at Mackey Arena 10 straight before they came in and defeated the Boilermakers 88-76 last year. Painter said the Boilers were “manhandled” in that game.
Purdue made physicality a point of emphasis in its wins over the Spartans and Hoosiers and got more than its share of loose balls and tough rebounds. The Boilers will need to maintain that mindset against a Nittany Lions team that isn't as good as it was last season, but for which Purdue “has a lot of respect,” according to Painter.
“We just have to be the bigger dog on the court every single game,” redshirt freshman Mason Gillis said. “Punch them in the mouth from the get-go. Whenever we do that, I think we get an advantage because we have Tre(vion Williams) and Zach (Edey), they dominate big guys in the post. Whenever we impose our will, it's hard to stop us.”
Penn State has only played seven games this season and has not taken the court in 2021. The Nittany Lions last played Dec. 30 at Indiana, but have had their last four games postponed because of a coronavirus outbreak within their program. It is unclear how many players they will have available today; Big Ten players who test positive are required to sit out for at least 17 days.
Such a layoff could impact Penn State more than other teams because of an up-tempo style that has it 13th in the country in field-goal attempts. The Nittany Lions love to shoot 3-pointers, hoisting 27 per game, and they shoot them well, knocking in close to 38%. That strategy could change if the team is struggling to get its legs underneath it.
“What team is going to come popping out?” Painter said. “Is this a team that's going to have a lot of rust from being off or is it like that team that's going to be excited to play like the first game of the season to where they have a lot of energy and they're all connected and ready to roll?”
Purdue vs. Penn State
When: 1 p.m.
Where: Mackey Arena, West Lafayette
Records: Purdue (9-5, 4-3 Big Ten), Penn State (3-4, 0-3)
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 1380 AM