Saturday, March 03, 2018 8:30 pm
Purdue 78, Penn State 70
Purdue advances to Big Ten tourney title game
MICHAEL LEWIS | For The Journal Gazette
NEW YORK – One more win for a ring, and some New York City memories that’ll last a lifetime.
Thanks to timely outside shooting from Dakota Mathias and Carsen Edwards, and a stifling defense in the second half, Purdue is 40 minutes away from their second Big Ten tournament title.
Carsen Edwards scored 27 points, while Isaac Haas pumped in 17 as the third-seeded Boilermakers shook off a slow start and burst past Penn State 78-70 before a sellout crowd Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
Purdue (28-5) will face Michigan, a team it narrowly beat twice this season, at 4:30 p.m. today for its first Big Ten Tournament title since 2009.
“We were in this position once before and unfortunately we didn’t get the outcome we wanted,” senior Vincent Edwards said. “We get another crack at it as seniors and we’re going to take advantage of it. We’re older and wiser now.”
The Boilermakers and Wolverines will meet for the third time this season, and both earlier matchups came down to the wire. The Boilers grabbed a 70-69 win at Michigan on Jan. 9, then two weeks later at Mackey Arena pulled out a four-point win. Michigan is playing its best ball right now after knocking out top-seeded Michigan State in the other semi Saturday.
Leading by only two at the half after a four-point surge right before the buzzer, Purdue methodically built its lead to double digits and was never threatened in pulling away.
Penn State guard Tony Carr was harassed by P.J. Thompson and Nojel Eastern into a miserable 4-for-18 shooting night, and the Nittany Lions, playing their third game in three days, hit only 34 percent from the field.
Shep Garner was Penn State’s only offensive bright spot, scoring a career-high 33 points.
“I was just trying to use my length, my physicality and my speed and don’t allow him to get easy shots,” Eastern said of guarding Carr. “He tends to shoot over smaller guards, so I just wanted to make it hard for him.”
The end of the first half seemed to be an emotional turning point for the Boilermakers. Penn State coach Pat Chambers got hit with a technical foul for arguing a call, and Purdue scored four quick points as Vincent Edwards hit a free throw followed by a 3-pointer by Carsen Edwards, giving Purdue a 33-31 lead at the break.
“I think that was the key to the game,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “How we finished the first half and started the first 5-6 minutes of the second half was what really helped us. Our energy really picked up at that point.”
“We were talking about how we’d had a lot of turnovers (seven) and our defense wasn’t connecting like it should be, and we were still up,” Purdue's Dakota Mathias said. “We got more aggressive and got the stops we needed to.”
Mathias provided a big spark in the second half, scoring nine straight points for the Boilers in one stretch and finishing with 15. In the process he also tied E’Twuan Moore’s school career mark of 243 3-pointers.
Mathias and Haas provided an offensive boost picking up the slack for Vincent Edwards. The senior scored 26 points Friday, but still bothered a sore left ankle struggled Saturday and scored only seven.
“It feels … OK,” Vincent Edwards said. “Obviously playing back-to-back games isn’t great for it, but we’ve got one more to win and I’ll get some rest and be ready to run (today).”
Purdue shot 60 percent in the second half and did a much better job rebounding Saturday, losing that battle by just four boards.
And now, one more tussle with Michigan is all that stands between the Boilers and history.
“We’ve got to beat Michigan at their own game at this point, we’ve learned that,” Vincent Edwards said. “Getting up and down the floor and guarding their stretch 5 Mo Wagner. We’ve got to flip it a little bit and make Mo guard Isaac in the post. It’s going to be fun.”