No. 5 Purdue is the outright Big Ten champion heading into Sunday’s regular-season finale at home against Illinois in West Lafayette, Ind.
For the Boilermakers (25-5, 14-5), who are still projected by many as a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament, this game will be about keeping players healthy while not damaging their resume.
As for six-team logjam behind Purdue in the conference standings, including the Fighting Illini (20-10, 11-8), it’s a different matter.
Illinois was projected as a No. 8 seed by ESPN on Friday. The Illini enter the weekend in a tie with five other teams (Iowa, Maryland, Indiana, Michigan and Northwestern) for second place in the conference and could use a win over Purdue to boost their tournament outlook.
The Boilermakers, who are 3-4 since losing at Indiana on Feb. 4, have not been playing their best basketball for the past month.
Purdue is still finding ways to survive and add wins as it did again on Thursday night when it took down host Wisconsin 63-61.
Zach Edey recorded his 23rd double-double, which leads all Division I players, with 17 points and 19 rebounds to lead the Boilermakers. Edey also limited the Wisconsin frontcourt tandem of Tyler Wahl and Steven Crowl to a combined seven points on 3-of-16 shooting.
“That matchup has been tough for us in the past. Zach kind of neutralized that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said.
But Purdue’s perimeter struggles continued as it shot 4-for-19 from beyond the arc.
And yet the Boilermakers won their first Big Ten regular season title in four years even before they stepped on the court Thursday following Illinois’ 91-87 double-overtime win over Michigan.
“The one thing that comes obviously is you want to win a championship and obviously Wisconsin won it last year, it’s the journey and it’s the things that you go through, some of the tough things,” Painter said. “Sometimes, all the noise, you’ve got to be able to either shut it out or use it as motivation.”
Matthew Mayer scored 24 points and Terrence Shannon Jr. scored 21 to lead the Illini against Michigan in a thrilling home finale. Shannon (17.9 points per game) and Mayer (12.9) have led Illinois on the offensive end this season.
“We just kept hanging in there,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “It’s the craziness of this team. I use that term in a really positive way. It’s their never-die attitude and their ability.”
Illinois led by nine points three different times early in the second half, but could not put the Wolverines away. Mayer scored the first five points of the second overtime and shot 8-for-20 while collecting seven rebounds. Illinois shot just 5-for-18 from 3-point range, but capitalized at the foul line by making 26 of 34 free throws.
“This team believes,” Underwood said. “For whatever the reason, we’ve been able to do that all year, 10 (points), 12, 14 down, 18 down at half. We’ve just kind of had a unique niche. This team doesn’t rattle.”
The teams went to double-overtime in last year’s meeting at Mackey Arena. Purdue prevailed 96-88 behind 20 points from Edey.
–Field Level Media