This Indiana team showed in early February it plays better after it shakes off a losing streak. After pulling out a triple overtime win over Penn State, Indiana went into Wisconsin and gave the Badgers a tough contest before falling in Madison. 65-60.
That may not be a lot to hang your hat on but when only one Big Ten team is looking up at you in the standings, you have to find a reason that fortunes may be changing.
Indiana's 6-10 Big Ten record puts itself now in a four-way tie with Ohio State, Nebraska and Penn State in 10th position. Any team that earns a top 10 seed won't have to open play next Wednesday in the Big Ten tournament in Washington, D.C.
As a 10.5 point underdog tonight, most of the Indiana faithful will take a close game tonight in West Lafayette where in-state rival Purdue (23-6, 12-4) has the opportunity to clinch a share of the Big Ten title. If that's not enough, it's Senior Night at Mackey Arena.
And the Boilermakers will be smarting, coming off a flat performance in Ann Arbor where Michigan gave the team the biggest beating of the season, 82-70.
"The only thing we're talking about is trying to fix the problems from our last game," Purdue head coach Matt Painter said yesterday about the chance for a share of the title. "This would be great for our fans and great for our players to be able to do that but we definitely have to play better than we did at Michigan if we want to do that."
Indiana hosted Purdue right after the tough loss at Wisconsin. The Hoosiers stayed with the Boilermakers but faded down the stretch in a 69-64 loss. The competitive play seemed to drain Indiana and the Hoosiers went on to lose their next three contests before storming back from seven down in the last 80 seconds on Saturday to earn a 63-62 win over visiting Northwestern.
Aside from the games against Penn State, this was the first time in over three months Indiana pulled out a tight contest.
"We've proven that we can beat just about any team in the country, that's not debatable," Indiana coach Tom Crean said yesterday. "We've had 13 games that have been a three point game with under a minute to go. We've not only got to find a way to win a close game like we did the other day but do an even better job of finding that margin in the game where we can eliminate some of the mistakes that (cause) tough lulls or tough segments, so we give ourselves a better opportunity."
In the first contest junior forward Vince Edwards broke out of a scoring slump, finishing with a game high 26 points.
"He was just around the basketball a lot, got put backs, got dump downs, got some post-ups, made some open threes, just kind of took what the defense was giving him," Painter said.
"You have to be very aware of where he is all the time," Crean said. "Not only does he shoot but he also rebounds. He invariably gets to that (right) side of the backboard."
Thomas Bryant led the Hoosiers with 23 points including 3-for-4 from 3-point distance.
"It's important for us to kind of stick with him, don't let him have second chance opportunities, don't let him have deep post-ups. But that's easier said than done," Painter said.
Bryant, however, only grabbed three rebounds while Purdue power forward Caleb Swanigan yanked down 14 rebounds to go with his 16 points.
With a win tonight, Swanigan will probably wrap-up the Big Ten Player of the Year award. He's averaging 18.6 points and 12.6 rebounds.
"We really have to lock into not only how we guard Swanigan but also what we do when his shot goes up," Crean said.
ESPN2 will carry this 7 p.m. game with Dan Shulman and Dan Dakich as the broadcast team.
For more on Purdue and other broadcast details, check out the Hoosier Game Day page.
Purdue's projected starters:
|11||G||P.J. Thompson||5-10/185||Junior||Indianapolis, Ind.||7.4||2.6 apg|
|3||G||Carsen Edwards||6-0/190||Frosh||Atascocita, Tex.||10.6||2.1 apg|
|31||G||Dakota Mathias||6-4/200||Junior||Elida, Ohio||9.7||3.8 apg|
|12||F||Vincent Edwards||6-8/225||Junior||Middletown, Ohio||11.8||4.7 rpg|
|50||F||Caleb Swanigan||6-9/250||Soph||Fort Wayne, Ind.||18.6||12.6 rpg|
|44||C||Isaac Haas||7-2/290||Junior||Hokes Bluff, Ala.||13.2||5.4 rpg|
|14||G||Ryan Cline||6-6/195||Soph||Carmel, Ind.||5.8||1.8 rpg|
|55||G||Spike Albrecht||6-0/180||Senior||Crown Point, Ind.||1.7||1.1 apg|