Thursday in College Basketball: Purdue Overcomes Northwestern

Brett LissendenSenior Analyst IJanuary 16, 2009

With a 1-2 Big Ten record entering Thursday night, the Purdue Boilermakers needed a win at Northwestern to keep afloat in the race for the Big Ten title. 

Purdue had already endured a home loss to Illinois and a road defeat to Penn State. A road game against Northwestern, a traditional Big Ten doormat currently winless in the league, was a must win.

Purdue struggled out of the gate and trailed by 13 points at halftime. The Boilermakers proceeded to whittle away at the lead in the second half, and finally gained the advantage with just over a minute remaining in the game.

Purdue's Keaton Grant hit a clutch three-pointer to put the Boilermakers ahead 61-59, and then JaJuan Johnson ultimately made two free throws with two seconds remaining to seal the win. 

Purdue was the team favored by many to win the Big Ten title this season.  Without this furious comeback, the Boilermakers would have been stuck in the cellar of the Big Ten standings. 

With the win, the Boilermakers retain the ability to work their way back to the top of the league and claim the title they feel they deserve.

Purdue star Robbie Hummel led the way with 15 points, a good sign for the struggling Big Ten preseason player of the year.


Other Top 25 Action

No. 4-ranked Connecticut used a strong second half to surge past St. John's by a score of 67-55. The Huskies still just have one blemish on the season.

The No. 6-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels finally recorded their first ACC win of the season after impressively going undefeated against all non-conference opponents. 

The Tar Heels defeated a struggling but improving Virginia team on the road by a score of 83-61. Player of the Year candidate Tyler Hansbrough led the way for UNC, recording 28 points and 12 rebounds.

No. 7-ranked UCLA won their 15th straight game at home by cruising to an 83-60 victory over Arizona. The Bruins improved to 14-2 overall and 4-0 in Pac 10 games.

No. 15-ranked Arizona State lost in the biggest upset of Thursday night to USC by a score of 61-49. The Trojans outscored the Sun Devils by a count of 42-23 in the second half to earn the win.

No. 16-ranked Butler held off a feisty Rhode Island squad to improve to 3-0 in Atlantic Ten play by a score of 67-65.

No. 17-ranked Minnesota scored a huge comeback victory at Wisconsin to stay in second place in the Big Ten standings. 

The Gophers trailed nearly the entire game, and by nine points with less than three-and-a-half minutes remaining. They used a game-tying three-pointer with two seconds remaining and a strong overtime period to overcome the Badgers. 

Lawrence Westbrook was responsible for 29 points in the win, including the three-pointer to force overtime and then nine points in the extra session.

No. 18-ranked Butler scored a decisive victory in Horizon League play over Loyola (IL) and improved to 6-0 in league play.

No. 25-ranked Saint Mary's improved to 16-1 on the season and 3-0 in the WCC with an easy 78-53 victory over Loyola Marymount, who has just one win on the season. The Gaels' competition in the WCC, Gonzaga, also notched a blowout victory to remain undefeated in conference play.


Sun Belt Showdown

The two top teams in the Sun Belt Conference played on Thursday and did not disappoint. Western Kentucky managed to gain an eight-point advantage over Middle Tennessee State at halftime, but saw the game tighten over the second half of play.

With the two teams tied, Western Kentucky's Steffphon Pettigrew hit a two-point field goal with four seconds left to give the Hilltoppers the win. This came just after MTSU had tied the game with 17 seconds remaining.

Both teams now have identical records at 5-1 in conference play and 11-6 overall.


MAAC Comeback

A Siena team heavily favored to win the MAAC Conference and potentially win a game in the NCAA Tournament (just as they did last year) was in serious danger of their first conference loss on Thursday night.

The Saints trailed by as many as 13 points to Marist with less than nine minutes to play, but mounted a comeback strong enough to send the game to overtime. Siena outscored their opponents 15-9 in the extra session to notch a 91-85 victory.

Siena is now 13-5 overall and 7-0 in MAAC play.