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The Journal Gazette

Monday, March 12, 2018 1:00 am

Boilers say focus only on Fullerton

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Purdue

vs. Cal State-Fullerton

When: 12:40 p.m. Friday

Where: Detroit

TV: TruTV

WEST LAFAYETTE – Purdue enjoyed one of the best regular seasons in program history, rising to as high as No. 3 in the national rankings and winning a team-record 19 straight games. The NCAA Tournament selection committee rewarded the Boilermakers for those accomplishments Sunday.

When the tournament bracket was revealed, Purdue received a No. 2 seed – the highest of any Big Ten team – and will play its first-round game Friday in Detroit against No. 15 seed Cal State-Fullerton.

“It's always fun to be a part of something so special,” said senior Vincent Edwards, who will play in his fourth NCAA Tournament this season. “Everybody looks forward to March Madness and to be able to say this is my fourth year in college basketball and I went all four years is pretty special.”

The Boilermakers will play Fullerton (20-11) at 12:40 p.m. Friday at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. If they're able to get past the lower-seeded Big West champions, they'll play Sunday against the winner of No. 7  Arkansas vs. No. 10 Butler.

Even though the bracket sets up a potential second-round matchup between in-state rivals, Purdue beat Butler 82-67 at the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis on Dec. 16, the Boilermakers insisted Sunday that they're only thinking about their first opponent.

“Our thoughts are 100 percent focused on Cal State-Fullerton,” guard P.J. Thompson said. “People are going to say whatever they want to say, but they've got our 100 percent focus.”

The Boilermakers (28-6) know that they can't simply skate through the opening round against a lower seed. As a No. 4 seed in last year's tournament, Purdue received a scare from No. 13 Vermont, eventually winning 80-70 after leading by just one point at halftime.

Purdue coach Matt Painter said that preparing to play a lower seed is one area in which his team's experience – four seniors who have been to four straight NCAA tournaments – will benefit the team.

“Vermont played well, but we played well,” Painter said of last year's opening-round game. “We had to play really good basketball to be able to beat them. ... We understand that we can play good and (Fullerton) can play good and it's going to be a close game. I think that respect and that maturity really is going to help us.”

The Boilermakers eventually reached the Sweet 16 last season before falling to No. 1 seed Kansas. It was the third time in Painter's tenure that the Boilers reached that round, but Purdue has not gotten further since an Elite Eight appearance under Gene Keady in 2000.

Despite already putting together a hugely successful regular season, this team will likely be judged by its performance in the next three weeks. Thompson said the Boilers expect that.

“That's part of basketball,” Thompson said. “Just like NBA players, they get judged by what they do in the playoffs, not regular season. It's the same thing. We're going to get judged by what we do in the postseason.”

The No. 2 seed is the highest the Boilers have been bracketed since they were a No. 2 in 1998. That season, they reached the Sweet 16 before falling to No. 3 Stanford.

Fullerton won the Big West Tournament as the No. 4 seed, beating UC Irvine 71-55 to earn its first NCAA bid since 2008 and third in school history.

dsinn@jg.net