BLOOMINGTON – It was a special day at Assembly Hall, but Purdue didn't let that interfere with its continued dominance of one of the fiercest rivalries in college basketball.
The Boilermakers made 50% of their 3-pointers and got 12 points and five rebounds from Eric Hunter Jr. to win 74-62, their sixth victory in a row over Indiana, on Saturday and spoil Hall of Fame Indiana coach Bob Knight's first appearance in the arena in nearly 20 years.
Purdue (14-10, 7-6 Big Ten) has won nine of the last 10 meetings with the Hoosiers (15-8, 5-7) for the first time since the Boilers took 13 of 14 matchups from 1929 to 1938. For those Indiana natives among the Boilermakers, this win was especially important.
“I've got some guys on the other side that I'm kind of friends with,” said Hunter Jr., an Indianapolis native. “Coming in with those bragging rights when the season is over and we're all home or hanging out somewhere, I don't have to worry about them talking about me losing.”
The Boilermakers have won three in a row for the first time since November, while Indiana has dropped four straight.
“I'm disappointed for our players,” Hoosiers coach Archie Miller said. “I'm disappointed for our fans. I'm disappointed for everyone that came back for (Knight's return). And I'll take full responsibility on the loss today.”
Freshman Trayce Jackson-Davis led Indiana with 16 points and eight rebounds. Aaron Wheeler matched a season-high with 11 points for Purdue and went 3 for 3 from 3-point range.
The game was tight throughout the first half, but late in the half the Boilermakers ripped off a 12-0 run to take control of the game and lead 37-28 at halftime. Wheeler, who came in making only 21.8% of his 3s, hit back-to-back shots from beyond the arc, part of an 8-for-16 day from long range for the Boilers.
Knight, who won three national titles with the Hoosiers and coached Indiana for 29 years, returned to the Assembly Hall court for the first time since being fired as coach in 2000.
His visit coincided with the 40th anniversary celebration of Indiana's 1980 Big Ten championship team, with dozens of other former Knight players on hand, as well.
The 79-year-old coach whipped the crowd into a frenzy at halftime by shouting “play defense!” at the student section before he walked off the court.
The Boilermakers knew the Hoosiers would draw energy from that emotional moment early in the second half and resolved to match that intensity. They had an inspirational figure on their side, as well: Long-time Purdue coach Gene Keady, who coached against Knight from 1980 to 2000, was also in attendance Saturday.
“We got Coach Keady sitting down at our bench,” said Purdue center Matt Haarms, who had eight points. “That's the guy I care about, he's the guy I want behind my bench every time, in the locker room. That's the guy we care about.
“What happened at halftime didn't matter to me. We knew we were going to come out hitting (shots).”
Indiana momentarily climbed back into the game, slicing the Purdue lead to 39-33 when Justin Smith drained a 3-pointer and Jackson-Davis soared for a thunderous put-back dunk, but the Boilermakers answered with five straight points from Sasha Stefanovic.
The visitors pushed their lead to as many as 16 before a 12-2 Indiana run made it a 56-50 game with 9:03 to go. That was all the Hoosiers had left, however, and Purdue responded with a 7-0 spurt, with all seven points coming in the paint or at the foul line, to put the game away.
“I thought our guys, just (had) some poise and continued to execute, continued to play hard and just tried to limit (Indiana) as much as we could,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said.