The Boilermakers were playing for a share of the Big Ten title, while Indiana desperately needed a quality road win to keep the flame on extinguishing NCAA tournament hopes.
The first half was tied after the first 10 minutes of play. Purdue then jumped on a 23-8 run over the next seven minutes to lead 40-25. Dakota Mathias was unconscious during that stretch, and led all scores at halftime with 17 points on 3-5 shooting from deep.
Indiana then ran off seven straight points to make it a manageable 40-32 deficit at the break. Josh Newkirk and Thomas Bryant each had seven points.
The Hoosiers got within four points at a couple points in the second half, but ran into severe foul trouble. Little used forward Tim Priller played five minutes (and scored six points) due to foul trouble from Bryant (fouled out), De’Von Davis (fouled out) and Freddie McSwain (four fouls).
Purdue did a better job of explicitly looking to feed the post in the second half and it paid dividends for Caleb Swanigan. The probable Big Ten Player of the Year scored 17 points in the second half and finished with 21 and 10, his 24th double-double on the season.
The Boilermakers’ lead steadily climbed over the final 10 minutes and Purdue eventually won 86-75 amid confetti and a raucous crowd.
Let’s take a look at what we learned from tonight’s victory.
1. Purdue Earns At Least A Share Of The Big Ten Title
A Big Ten title seemed distant for Purdue (24-6, 13-4) after a fall to Nebraska on January 29th. The Boilermakers were 6-3 in the conference and Wisconsin was in the driver’s seat.
Purdue has since gone 7-1, while Wisconsin is 4-4. The exclamation point of this remarkable turnaround was to clinch in front of a home crowd in a victory over their biggest rival.
The victory also guarantees that Purdue is the number one seed in the Big Ten Tournament, no matter the remaining results from Wisconsin.
Historically, this Big Ten title means a lot to Purdue as well. It is the Boilermakers’ 23rd Big Ten title all-time, which puts them solely in first place over, you probably guessed it, Indiana.
2. Dakota Mathias Gives Purdue An Important Element
Purdue did not look great on offense in the first 10 minutes of play tonight.
They jumped out to an early lead, but then suffered through a 1-10 stretch from the floor and Indiana seemed to be disruptive on the defensive end and in transition on offense.
Then Dakota Mathias got going.
People are always going to talk about Purdue’s size in the front court and with good reason, it is why they won the Big Ten this year. What only is starting to get mentioned is how important Dakota Mathias is to Purdue.
The sharp-shooting guard put Purdue on his back over the last 10 minutes of the first half and delivered a memorable performance. He hit three three’s, scored 17 points and was the chief reason Purdue jumped out to a 15-point first half lead.
For the night he finished with 19 points and seven rebounds. He also guarded well on the perimeter, especially against Robert Johnson, who only scored four points on 2-8 shooting.
It feels strange to say that the Boilermakers need a backcourt player to go far in the NCAA Tournament, but there is some truth to it. Purdue needs his steady, hot-shooting hand to get to another level. Mathias showed what he was capable of tonight in one of his best games as a Boilermaker.
3. Indiana’s NCAA Tournament Hopes Are Officially Dead
This is barring an improbable run in the Big Ten Conference Tournament (which would likely require winning the tourney). The Hoosiers’ hopes were on life support anyway, but the loss tonight seals it for Indiana (16-14, 6-11).
It would have been crazy talk to suggest the Hoosiers wouldn’t even be on the bubble in early December as the Hoosiers were ranked and notched victories over Kansas and North Carolina, but here we are. Injuries, inconsistent play and fractures between coach and players make this season a disappointment for the reigning Big Ten champion Hoosiers.
The question now continues to be what man will be roaming the sidelines after the Hoosiers complete their final couple games.
Both teams will conclude the Big Ten regular season on the road. Indiana travels to Columbus on Saturday to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes. On Sunday, Purdue will drive up I-65 to Evanston to play Northwestern on CBS.