A hazardous journey awaits the Hoosiers Wednesday.
It's not only the 12 inches of snow and ice that Coach Kelvin Sampson's team will have to navigate when it journeys up I-65 to West Lafayette for Wednesday night's 7 p.m. match-up with Purdue. No, the 19th-ranked Hoosiers will have to contend with a Boilermaker team that's been itching for another crack at Indiana after last month's 85-58 demolition in Bloomington.
That contest left a bad taste in Coach Matt Painter's mouth not only because of the score but also due to an on-court incident with Hoosier point guard Earl Calloway. After making a jump shot Calloway turned to the Purdue bench and said something to the Boilermaker coach on his way up the floor, and whatever Calloway said angered Painter enough that he jumped up from his seat and glared at Sampson.
Painter then addressed the issue again in the post-game press conference.
"I'm not going to take it from a kid – I'm sorry," Painter said. "I'm going to stick up for my team, whether that's the referees, opposing players, opposing coaches. I think there's a right way to go about it. When someone crosses that line you need to stand up for yourself and your team.
"You got to have class. You got to play the game with class. You can still play hard, you can still be ornery, but it's one of those things that's water under the bridge."
Truth be told, it's not water under the bridge. That moment and that game's result haven't been forgotten by Painter's team, and that's likely to be apparent when the game tips off. Emotions figure to be running extremely high in a rivalry game that rarely needs any additional storylines to create a raucous atmosphere.
That's why the early stages of this contest might be the most important part of the game.
"I think when you're playing in a game like this, the first four minutes becomes important because we're going to get their best shot," Sampson said. "Their crowd's going to be into it, it's a rivalry game, and they have a lot of pride."
Purdue also has a lot on the line. While Ohio State, Wisconsin and Indiana appear to be bound for the NCAA tourney, the Boilermakers are among a grouping of Big Ten squads that still have some work to do to impress the selection committee.
At 16-9 and 5-6 in the conference, Purdue is currently seventh in the league standings. But a win over Indiana would give them a marquee victory late in the year, and they close the regular season with two contests against Northwestern sandwiched around a home contest against Minnesota. That's a recipe for a 20-win, plus-.500 regular season conference mark, and that would most likely be more than enough to get Purdue into the NCAA tourney for the first time since 2003.
Painter's team has also been playing some of its best basketball as of late, winning two of its last three. It's recent run includes a 24-point pounding of Michigan State and a narrow seven-point loss at No. 2 Ohio State over the weekend.
"The thing I like about Purdue's team is as the season's gone on they've just gotten better and better and better," Sampson said. "You look at the two seniors, they've really led the way…I just think their two seniors have kind of taken their team by the throat and really led them."
Those two players are Carl Landry and David Teague. Landry has been dominant all season, averaging 19.0 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting 60.3 percent from the floor. Teague has picked up his production since league played opened. The 6-5 guard ranks fifth in the Big Ten with 16.1 points/game in conference games and he's shooting 46.2 percent from behind the 3-point arc as well.
Indiana, meanwhile, has a chance to solidify its hold on third-place in the conference standings while also getting another coveted quality road win. The Hoosiers are 17-6 overall, but just 2-5 in true road games.
The road/neutral record weighs heavily on the minds of the NCAA Selection Committee when it comes time for seeding, but Sampson says he's not looking ahead to what the game's implications will be for the tournament.
"We've got some great opportunities coming up here," Sampson said. "We play two road games this week – great opportunity games for us, and then you get down to your last four and we have two at home and two way. If you focus on the big things the little things will take care of themselves, so that's way we've always approached it."
Hazardous Journey Ahead
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