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What We Learned: Purdue Boilermakers 73, Illinois Fighting Illini 56

What are the takeaways from Mackey Arena Wednesday night?

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Purdue Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Well that felt good.

We don’t have team writers here at BTP, but I went to Purdue, so naturally I like it when my team does well. Unsurprisingly, since the Purdue Boilermakers in the Big Ten title hunt, this article is going to focus mainly on the Boilermakers. But I’ll say some things about the Illini Fighting Illini to start us off.

The Illini are a fun team to watch. They are young and they aren’t that deep, but in terms of the system Brad Underwood is trying to run, I love where they’re headed. The offense has both ball movement and player movement, and the defense is an aggressive style that is going to push the boundaries of what teams are used to seeing in the Big Ten. They have a young core, and they are about to get back to finishing in the top half of the league pretty much every year. They lost tonight partly because Giorgi got in foul trouble in the toughest road venue in the Big Ten. It happens.

Now, onto the Boilermakers.

What We Learned:

1. Carsen Edwards Is Out of His Shooting Slump

23 points on 19 shots is the best stat line Carsen Edwards has put up in quite some time. After a couple of rough road trips to Assembly Hall and Pinnacle Bank Arena, the home court got Purdue’s best player back into a groove. There were no oh-my-God-how-did-he-hit-that moments, but that’s probably a good thing. His shot selection is improving. That said, six turnovers and zero assists is not a good look.

Edwards didn’t really need to be a distributor tonight, though. That role was more than handled by Nojel Eastern (6 assists) and Ryan Cline (7 assists). Cline had zero made threes and eight rebounds, quite the uncharacteristic night for him. Eastern had several passes into Matt Haarms that led to either fouls or dunks that were basketball perfection. Speaking of which...

2. Purdue Has Found Someone Else to Play Through

Through much of the second half, particularly when Purdue started pulling away, the first scoring option they looked to was their big Dutchman. Haarms delivered. 21 points and 10 rebounds (the first double-double of his career), 1 foul, 5 blocks, zero turnovers, zero misses from the field, zero misses from the line. It’s hard (Haard?) to put up better numbers than that.

At the start of the year, Purdue was forced to play through Edwards for everything, and they dropped games to Virginia Tech, Florida State, Michigan, Texas, and Notre Dame. Then Trevion Williams emerged and Matt Painter’s team played its way to the top of the Big Ten standings. Then Williams got in foul trouble and/or strep throat, and what had been one of the nation's most efficient offenses turned to absolute sludge.

But Purdue now looks like they’ve found a third option. With Haarms able to score inside, that makes Purdue much tougher to defend. Sure, some of it was because Illinois was a good matchup for Haarms, but there aren’t going to be many teams that can roll out a frontcourt that’s a bad matchup for both Haarms and Williams.

3. Matt Painter Is Shortening His Bench

Purdue’s bench only played 25 combined minutes tonight, and only added two points. Part of that was that Haarms was able to hold down 32 productive minutes at the center spot, leaving only 8 for Trevion Williams. But Aaron Wheeler also only saw 8 minutes, and Eric Hunter and Sasha Stefanovic saw even fewer. Evan Boudreaux didn’t play at all.

It’s natural for the bench to get shorter as teams head into March. And I think Painter trusts all of those guys to come in and play 15-20 minutes a game if called on to do so. But at this point Purdue is going to play Grady Eifert, Nojel Eastern, and Ryan Cline as many minutes as possible. With performances like we saw Wednesday night, it’s not difficult to see why.

4. Purdue Still Controls Their Own Destiny

The win over Illinois was most significant because of its Big Ten title implications. Purdue, Michigan, and Michigan State all have three games left. If Purdue wins out, they grab at least a share of the title. The same is true for Michigan State. Michigan has to hope both of the other two lose, though they still get to have something to say about Michigan State as they play the Spartans again.

Purdue finishes with Ohio State at home, then road trips to Minnesota and Northwestern. A showing like they just had against Illinois is probably enough to win all three of those games. With Edwards back on track and other guys stepping up, Purdue fans should all feel a lot better about this team’s chances than they did 24 hours ago.