No. 5 Purdue has been the Big Ten’s top team all season.
The Boilermakers won the outright championship in the regular season and attempt to add the conference tournament title to their resume when they square off with surprising Penn State in Chicago on Sunday afternoon.
Ranked fifth in the country, Purdue advanced to the championship game by defeating 13th-seeded Ohio State in the semifinals on Saturday, 80-66. National Player of the Year candidate Zach Edey overpowered the Buckeyes with 32 points and 14 rebounds.
Purdue (28-5) has one conference tournament title since the event’s inception in 1998. That came in 2009, when it defeated Ohio State 65-61. The Boilermakers lost in the championship game in 2016, ’18 and ’22.
Last season, Iowa defeated Purdue, 75-66 in Indianapolis.
Penn State (22-12) advanced to the Big Ten title game for just the second time by defeating Indiana 77-73. The 10th-seeded Nittany Lions can make history, since no seed lower than eighth has won the tournament.
Penn State’s only other trip to the finals came in 2011, when it lost to Ohio State.
Purdue head coach Matt Painter faces his former top assistant, Micah Shrewsberry, in Sunday’s championship game. Shrewsberry took over the Penn State program two years ago.
“We root for Micah. Obviously we don’t root for him when they play Purdue, but he’s meant a lot to our program in two different stints as an assistant,” Painter said. “He’s grown our program. He’s been a part of it, making us better, and we learned a lot from him.”
Shrewsberry is credited with forwarding many of the NBA-style half-court sets and mixed concepts the Boilermakers use on offense. Edey said Shrewsberry was integral in his development.
“You want to see Shrews,” Edey said. “I always want to see him win, unless it’s against us, because he helped me so much my freshman year.”
Edey went on the attack against an Ohio State defense that didn’t double-team him, the strategy of most opponents.
“It definitely makes the game pretty simple for me. I’ve just got to score the ball every time I touch it,” he said. “There’s kind of like a point halfway through the first half when one of our coaches, P.J. (Thompson), kind of came up to me, ‘This is just one of those days you’ve got to get 30.’ So I just kind of stuck with it. I executed the gameplan.”
Edey averaged 24 points and 13 rebounds in two regular-season wins over the Nittany Lions.
“It’s never fun because they’ve beaten our brains in every time we’ve played them,” Shrewsberry said of facing Painter and the Boilermakers. “But it’s like the friendliest of rivalries. He’s a guy I call and talk to all the time. Despite us being in the same league, we’re talking to each other throughout the year and we’re always helping each other. … It will be a great challenge. We’ve got to be ready, we’ve got to be physical.”
“It’s really important for us,” said Nittany Lions guard Jalen Pickett, who led his team against the Hoosiers with 28 points. “We have a poster in our locker room saying ‘Believe.’… We ended the regular season pretty well, on a high note, and now it’s showing in the tournament. I feel we’re playing our best basketball now.”
–Field Level Media