If ever there was a time for Purdue to pick up a much-needed Big Ten road victory, today would be it. The Boilermakers, who have lost three of their last four, are 0-5 on the road in conference play, but tonight they play at Northwestern, a team that has lost five straight.
The last-place Wildcats are 1-9 in the Big Ten and are still learning to play together with five freshmen and sophomores among their top seven scorers. A win in Evanston, Illinois, could kick off a nice stretch for Purdue, which has two home games and a matchup at Indiana in its next three games.
If Purdue is going to grab that elusive conference road win, the start of the game will play a significant role. The Boilermakers have a habit of getting off to bad starts on the road, lacking energy early in games, before desperately attempting comebacks late.
Northwestern, meanwhile, has excelled early in games but has struggled to put teams away. Last week, the Wildcats led No. 17 Maryland 40-26 at halftime but were outscored by 25 in the second half to lose 77-66.
“What (the Wildcats) have done well (get off to good starts) is what we haven't done well,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “So that's a concern for us is trying to get off to a good start and just play more consistent the first 5 to 10 minutes of the (first) half.”
The Boilermakers have gotten energy from some surprising sources recently, most notably 6-foot-8 forward Evan Boudreaux. The senior is averaging 9.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in the last two games and has seen his playing time increase after playing single-digit minutes in five of his previous six games.
“Really at the end of the day, one guy not bringing energy can kind of bring everybody down,” Boudreaux said. “Not that that's necessarily been the case, but we need to focus and really lock in on that aspect, because shots aren't going to fall and we're going to make mistakes, but there's no reason we can't box out every time or why we can't make the energy plays and get the loose balls.”
Having Boudreaux's size on the court alongside Trevion Williams or Matt Haarms will help Purdue deal with Northwestern's two 6-10 youngsters, sophomore Pete Nance and freshman Ryan Young. Nance had 14 points and six rebounds when these teams met Dec. 8 in West Lafayette, a game the Boilers won 58-44.
Purdue made just 5 of 22 3-point shots in that game but won the rebounding battle 35-28 and turned the ball over only six times.
Purdue at Northwestern
When: 9 p.m. today
Where: Welsh Ryan Arena, Evanston, Ill.
Records: Purdue (11-10, 4-6 Big Ten), Northwestern (6-14, 1-9)
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 1380 AM, 100.9 FM