The college basketball regular season is entering the home stretch and Purdue has plenty of its goals in front of it.
Although a Big Ten title is likely out of reach because of Michigan's dominance this season, the Boilermakers are in contention for a top-four seed in the Big Ten Tournament, which confers a double bye into the quarterfinals. As of today, the Boilers are in fifth, just one game behind fourth-place Iowa.
Purdue has won its last two but will need to continue to pile up victories to keep pace with the surging Hawkeyes, winners of four straight. The Boilermakers' next opportunity comes tonight on the road against 12th place Penn State.
“Coach (Matt) Paint(er) keeps saying, 'The most important game is your next game,'” guard Sasha Stefanovic said. “It's really true here down the stretch when you get into March and everything. You can't look ahead; ... we just have to be the best version of ourselves the next day. I think we've done that and had some really good practices, been competitive.”
Painter said there are several steps the Boilermakers (15-8, 10-6 Big Ten) need to take before he will feel they're playing at peak performance. He saw too many cracks in a 75-58 win over Nebraska on Saturday.
“There were way too many defensive breakdowns,” the 16th-year Purdue coach said. “Lack of execution, guys not running plays, guys not paying attention in huddles. There were a lot of incidents where we just didn't have our computer plugged into the wall.”
Stefanovic was one of the few players who enjoyed a big night against Nebraska, going 4 for 8 from 3-point range.
Getting the redshirt junior going again is key for a Purdue team that is shooting 26.7% from deep in February and went only 6 for 32 in its first matchup against Penn State.
“It brings a different element to our team that you have to worry about,” Stefanovic said of outside shooting. “If you have to respect us from 3, it just adds a different element that makes us tough to guard. (Driving and kicking) is something we've really worked on in practice and just being ready to shoot at all times.”
The Boilermakers won that first matchup against the Nittany Lions 80-72 at Mackey Arena on Jan. 17, but Penn State kept it close by crashing the offensive glass. The visitors had 18 offensive rebounds, including 10 from 6-foot-9 forward John Harrar. Purdue can't afford a repeat of that performance on the boards, Painter said.
“Harrar is a guy that just bullies you, he goes hard every time,” Painter said. “He might be one of the best in the country if not the best in terms of his effort. They're a resilient group and they took us to the woodshed the first time, so hopefully we have some guys that have some pride and want to lay wood and box people out and go get the basketball.”
Purdue's last three wins at Penn State – in 2015, 2017 and 2019 – have come in overtime.
See a video
To see a video about the Purdue-Penn State game, click on this URL -- https://vimeo.com/517004050
Purdue at Penn State
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Bryce Jordan Center
Records: Purdue (15-8, 10-6 Big Ten), Penn State (8-12, 5-11)