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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Purdue guard Carsen Edwards celebrates with fans after No. 11 Purdue defeated Northwestern on Saturday to capture the program's 24th Big Ten championship. 

Sunday, March 10, 2019 1:00 am

Purdue 70 Northwestern 57

Boilers wrap up 24th Big Ten title

Edwards hits key 3 to halt Northwestern comeback bid

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

EVANSTON, Ill. – The buzzer sounded and Carsen Edwards swaggered around the court, celebrating with everyone he could find wearing gold and black.

“The champs are here,” he bellowed to no one in particular. “The champ is here.”

The No. 11 Boilermakers had just earned the right to call themselves the champs by beating Northwestern 70-57 at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Saturday to clinch a share of the Big Ten title, their second in three years, in the regular-season finale. 

It was the 24th Big Ten championship in Purdue history, the most of any school in one of the country's oldest conferences. It was a seemingly unlikely title for a team that lost four starters and opened the season 6-5, but the Boilermakers (23-8, 16-4 Big Ten) never doubted themselves.

“Even when we were 6-5 and everyone was saying we weren't a good team and we were going to finish ninth in the Big Ten, stuff like that, we just never stopped believing,” said center Matt Haarms, who finished with 11 points, six rebounds and three blocks. “We knew we had the ability to be special and we proved it to everybody.”

Edwards, who added a second ring after turning down the NBA to return for his junior season, led the way against the Wildcats (13-18, 4-16), scoring 21 points, grabbing five rebounds and dishing five assists. 

When the Wildcats cut a 14-point deficit to just eight on a pair of A.J. Turner 3-pointers late in the second half, it was Edwards who responded with a huge 3 of his own out of a timeout to give Purdue enough cushion to coast in the final minutes. It was one of Edwards' three 3-pointers, giving him 252 for his career and breaking Dakota Mathias' all-time Purdue record.

Purdue made its mark all afternoon on the glass, securing 10 offensive rebounds to just two for Northwestern and holding a 17-0 advantage in second-chance points. That too is partially attributable to Edwards' singular talent.

“It's just that effort,” coach Matt Painter said of his team's dominance on the offensive glass. “Carsen Edwards gets so much attention when he drives or shoots, sometimes you'll have an octopus on him, three guys on him, and who's there to box out if he misses? It starts there, hey, let's steal some possessions.”

Purdue, with all the pressure of a do-or-die championship game on its shoulders, was poised with the ball, turning it over just twice in the first half and seven times overall. 

Evanston native Nojel Eastern was the only Boilermaker with two turnovers, but he also scored 15 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished three assists in front of his hometown fans. Fort Wayne native Grady Eifert added three points, two rebounds and two assists.

The Boilermakers weren't alone in their celebration as the championship shirts and hats were distributed. Among the announced crowd of 7,039, there was a wide swath of Purdue fans seated mostly behind the Boilers bench that made their presence known as it became apparent their team would capture the title.

As the celebration ramped up, Haarms turned, spread his arms out wide and bowed to the black-and-gold contingent.

“I just wanted to thank them,” the jubilant center said. “We have an amazing fan base, and I just wanted to thank them for coming out here. ... It's just amazing to thank them for being here and sharing in this joy with us.”

dsinn@jg.net