Boilers looking for key win against Butler

Purdue is looking for that elusive win in the Crossroads Classic, facing a tough Butler team.

WEST LAFAYETTE -- Now in its third year, the Crossroads Classic makes for a memorable night of basketball in Indiana's capitol city.

Four great basketball traditions—Purdue, Butler, Indiana and Notre Dame—take to Bankers Life Fieldhouse for an doubleheader. It's an exciting event for fans of basketball in the Hoosier State, something all basketball junkies in the state have grown to enjoy. Well, almost all of them.

"I would be a bigger fan if we could win a game," joked Purdue coach Matt Painter. "That would really get me excited."

The Boilermakers drew Butler in what makes for a tough matchup. Brandon Miller, the Bulldogs' first-year head coach, has his team sitting at 7-2 entering the event held just a few miles south of Butler's campus.

What makes the Crossroads Classic unique is the environment, with fans from all four teams filling the arena. No team has a home-court advantage.

"It's a fun environment if you ask me," said Purdue senior guard Terone Johnson. "You've got a clash of all four of these Indiana teams and their fans. It packs Bankers Life out. It's fun doing this."

Added Purdue freshman forward Basil Smotherman: "There's a rivalry between all of these teams—IU, Notre Dame, Purdue, Butler. You're just coming down to prove what your team's made of. That's what we're doing tomorrow."

The veterans like Johnson are familiar with a tournament-type atmosphere like what they'll see on Saturday night. For the freshmen like Smotherman, it will be a new experience.

This will be a homecoming for Smotherman, along with several other teammates. He'll have family, friends and former teammates on hand to root for the Boilermakers. With plenty of distractions added to a raucous environment, the forward is going the extra mile to be prepared. He posted the game plan above his bed, staring at it countless times this week.

"The atmosphere is going to be live tomorrow," Smotherman said. "You really can't focus on that; you have to focus on the game plan."

Butler took its first Crossroads Classic meeting against Purdue, winning by one point on a buzzer-beating tip-in. This Bulldogs team is another tough one, even without coach Brad Stevens. Sophomore guard Kellen Durham leads the team in scoring with 18.7 points per game, while senior forward Khyle Marshall is right behind him at 17 points per game.

Miller has the Bulldogs poised for yet another NCAA Tournament appearance, something which has become a regularity in the past two decades.

"They've had some really good coaches the last 20 years," Painter said. "They've been able to recruit guys that fit at Butler."

Speaking to the team this week, Painter used the word "Résumé" for the first time this season. The Boilermakers need a win to boost their nonconference credentials, and their coach is stressing the importance of this game.

"This is a résumé game for us," Smotherman said. "We have to beat Butler to put ourselves back to where we want to be, at the top, and get back to the tournament."

It's finals week at Purdue, which means the players have spent much more time in front of their books instead of a basketball hoop. After a six-day layoff from game action, the Boilermakers are eager to retake the court.

Between an electric atmosphere and the time away from basketball, Purdue is ready for its chance to retake the court. The key is staying composed, as outlined to the freshmen by the seniors.

"Just stay the course of the game and don't let the crowd control the game," Johnson said. "It's going to be a hostile environment. We've got to keep it calmed, collected and even keeled."

If the Boilermakers can block out the outside distractions and focus on the game plan, they'll earn that elusive win. Then, Painter can learn to love this exciting evening of basketball.

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Northwestern Wildcats, and currently covers the Purdue Boilermakers. A Chicago native, he resides in West Lafayette.
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