After a back and forth first half the Boilermakers broke out with a 21-4 run to kickstart the second half, eventually topping Northwestern 68-60. Purdue has been on a recent surge and could make some noise if they can stay at this level, while Northwestern keeps coming close before ultimately losing. Tonight's game between the two teams wasn't always pretty, with Purdue coasting several times and Northwestern failing to capitalize on several opportunities, but the end result was what was more or less expected with Purdue just needing to avoid a letdown after a huge win versus Indiana earlier in the week.
What We Learned
When A.J. Hammons is on Purdue is nearly unbeatable
A.J. Hammons has had NBA talk surround him his entire career at Purdue and he's finally starting to deliver. Hammons had a big day for the Boilers tonight, just missing out on a double-double with 16 points and 9 rebounds. The seven footer had already established himself as a difference maker on the defensive side of things, but he's finally making plays more consistently on offense and has been getting up and down the court better than in the past. When Hammons is making plays on both sides of the ball it opens things up for Purdue and allows Purdue to compete with just about anyone, especially with Isaac Haas ready to come off the bench.
Purdue's recent success is the result of Rapheal Davis's improved play
The junior has already made his presence on defense well known, but captain Rapheal Davis seems to finally be piecing together an offensive game. Davis has been routinely leading Purdue in scoring and after making only two three pointers over the first 18 games he's now made 6 of 10 the last four. His recent jump shot has been a much needed weapon for Purdue, especially with the sporadic performance of Kendall Stephens. Last year Purdue had few offensive weapons but with guys like Davis, Jon Octeus and Vince Edwards contributing, the offense finally has started to click.
Occasionally Purdue can shoot free throws
Heading into Evanston the Boilermakers 67.4% free throw shooting percentage was good enough for 226th in the nation. Purdue ended up making 75% of their 32 free throws tonight, including 15 of 18 in the second half. Considering Purdue's ability to get to the line and the need to close out games down the stretch, shooting at an efficient rate is going to be key over the next month. Even Isaac Haas, a 51% free throw shooter, was able to hit 6 of his 8 attempts.
Northwestern will continue to find interesting ways to lose
Northwestern has now lost their last seven games. They've managed to keep it interesting in their last six defeats, though, with tonight's loss to Purdue being the worst defeat since their first game in 2015 against Wisconsin. Northwestern has came close time and time again, but for whatever reason just can't pull one out. After a surprising overtime loss at Michigan State and a five point loss to Illinois, the Wildcats went on to lose three games to Michigan, Ohio State and Maryland (two of which were on the road) by a combined five points. So in a slightly easier affair than the last two, Northwestern and Purdue went back and forth the entire first half with the Wildcats holding a one point lead at the break. Then Purdue opened the second on a 21-4 run. While Northwestern cut it to six points, a key rebound by Hammons with 1:17 remaining proved to be the final blow for the Wildcats in another tough loss.
McIntosh is great but he needs help
Bryant McIntosh has been huge for Northwestern this season and had another big day with 18 points and 5 assists for the Wildcats. While he failed to finish a few plays at the basket, McIntosh has easily been the bright spot for Northwestern in another season where the team is once again at the bottom of the conference. That being said, the freshman could use some help from his teammates. In a winnable home game tonight McIntosh was the lone bright spot for Northwestern, trying to carry the Wildcats most of the night. Center Alex Olah was kept out of sync by Purdue thanks to foul trouble, eventually fouling out, and Tre Demps was the only other player to score more than six points. While Demps matched McIntosh with 18 points, the junior also had to shoot the ball 18 times to get there and was wildly inefficient most of the night.
The Boilermakers got another win, their third in a row, and now are sitting at a nice 6-3 in the conference. Purdue's NCAA hopes were considered fringe at best, but now they may be a legitimate bubble team. The biggest obstacle for the Boilers is two deflating losses in December to North Florida and Gardner-Webb. Without both of those losses Purdue could be 16-6 (6-3) and sitting pretty, now they'll likely need to hit 10 or 11 wins in the conference to entertain the idea of a bubble bid. They'll have an opportunity for a huge win this week when they host Ohio State, a game that will be winnable if the crowd at Mackey can come remotely close to matching the intensity of the Indiana game. Then the schedule will see Minnesota, Rutgers (twice), Nebraska and Indiana throughout the rest of February.
As for Northwestern, this was another hard to stomach defeat for the Wildcats. Collins has his guys competing and players like Bryant McIntosh could be very, very good in the future...but sooner or later the Wildcats need to win some of these games. Any sort of postseason has long been off the table and the schedule will only get more difficult from here on out so it'll be interesting to see if Northwestern can keep the effort up as they should be capable of winning some of these games if they can finally get some luck on their side. While this weeks matchup against Nebraska is definitely winnable, the schedule does Northwestern no favors as they'll have to travel to Nebraska and play in a very difficult environment.