CHAMPAIGN, Illinois – Trevion Williams and Brandon Newman had 14 points apiece, but Purdue let a second-half lead get away for the second straight game and lost 66-58 to Illinois tonight at the State Farm Center. The Boilermakers drop to 7-5, 2-3 in Big Ten play.
- Purdue's defense can be good: The Boilermakers took a step forward on the defensive end today, holding one of the nation's best offensive teams in check for large stretches of the game. There were still breakdowns on that end of the court, of course – too many instances of two defenders chasing one shooter, leading to open shots on an extra pass for Illinois, and Fighting Illini guard Andre Curbelo got to the lane far too easily at times in the second half – but for the most part the Boilermakers played hard on the defensive end and forced the Fighting Illini to run crisp half-court offense to get baskets. One of the most encouraging developments was the performance of freshman center Zach Edey. Edey struggled early in the season to avoid foul trouble, but he has learned that he can shut down just about anyone by simply putting his arms straight up in the lane. He did that today and was a wall in the middle, grabbing four rebounds and blocking three shots in 13 minutes. He and Williams continue to complement each other. The most encouraging aspect of Purdue's defensive performance was that it happened while the Boilermakers weren't shooting particularly well. Most of the season, Purdue has not done well at having defensive intensity when shots aren't falling, but that wasn't the case today, which reflects some maturity.
- Trevion Williams brought the fight: Prior to the game, Williams talked about battling Illinois big man Kofi Cockburn and said some players never fight him. Williams fought today. The Purdue center struggled in the first half against the 2020 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, who is one of the best defensive big men in the country, but he refused to back down and kept going right at Cockburn's chest. Eventually, Williams began getting to his desired spots and scoring in the post. He had eight points in a seven-minute span between the end of the first and the start of the second half that saw Purdue overcome a double-digit deficit to take the lead. Williams finished 7 for 14 from the field and added eight rebounds, a near-Herculean effort against Cockburn and he provided an outlet through which Purdue could get a quality shot just about any time it wanted. Coach Matt Painter talks about embracing the physicality of the game and Williams did that with gusto today.
- Call them the comeback kids (kind of): Purdue is not going to go away. The Boilermakers have shown admirable fight in each of their last two games, coming back from a 15-point deficit against Rutgers on Tuesday and erasing a 13-point deficit to take a lead that reached as many as six against the Fighting Illini today. The Boilermakers' 19-0 run that spanned the start of the first half and the beginning of the second half and pushed them ahead this evening was a glimpse of how good this team can be. The problem was what came next. As against Rutgers, the Boilers were unable to hold the lead they'd worked so hard to obtain, this time giving it away with a string of ill-timed turnovers. Over a 3:58 stretch midway through the second, Purdue gave the ball away five times, four of which were live-ball miscues. Illinois took advantage, embarking on a 20-5 run to re-take control of the game. It's good that Purdue feels no lead is too big to overcome, but the next step is finishing games when it has second-half leads. That's what will get this team over the hump, but it's not there yet.
Player of the Game: Kofi Cockburn
Despite Williams' outstanding effort, Cockburn was the difference-maker in this one. The Illinois center had 14 points, including two vicious dunks down the stretch that helped keep the Illini in front, and 10 rebounds. It was his seventh double-double of the season and fourth in the last five games. He also had two blocks.
The game was coach Matt Painter's 523rd as Purdue head coach, tying him for second in Boilermaker history with Ward "Piggy" Lambert, who led the program from 1918 to 1946. ... The Boilers and Fighting Illini have played 192 times. The total margin in points is 19 in favor of Purdue. ... Illinois has not lost a game this season to an unranked opponent. ... The Fighting Illini came into the game No. 3 nationally in average rebounding margin at plus-14.2 and outrebounded Purdue 39-33. ... The Illini also entered the contest No. 5 nationally in 3-point shooting at 42.3% and went 7 for 20 from beyond the arc. Illinois guard Da'Monte Williams was 6 for 7 from 3-point range over his previous three games and 69.6% overall this season. He went 3 for 5 today. ... Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu came into the game second in the Big Ten in scoring (24.1 points per game) and fourth in assists (5.2 per contest). He scored 12 points on 5 for 13 from the field and added three assists and five rebounds. ... Illinois had a 17-5 advantage in points off turnovers. ... The Fighting Illini were 9 for 22 at the free-throw line. Purdue was 7 of 12.
Purdue is back in action Tuesday with a matchup at Mackey Arena against Nebraska (4-6, 0-3 Big Ten). The game will tip off at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network. The Cornhuskers are one of the three remaining winless teams in Big Ten play, along with Michigan State and Penn State. Their first three conference games have all been against ranked teams, most recently a 90-54 loss to Ohio State. They take on Michigan State today at 8 p.m.