INDIANAPOLIS-- The buzz at Conseco Fieldhouse this week has been the possibility of the Pacers leaving town. Turns out the city’s NBA franchise has lost money in nine of the past ten years, and is struggling to pay the costs of operating the decade-old arena.
Well, if the Pacers don’t want it—the Purdue Boilermakers certainly do.
Coming into Friday’s quarterfinal date with Penn State, Purdue’s best first-half point total of the campaign was 47 (against Davidson in mid-December). Any guesses on the venue for this offensive explosion?
That’s right. Conseco.
The Boilers returned to the scene and rediscovered their collective shooting strokes, scoring 51 before intermission on their way to a surprisingly easy 79-65 triumph. Purdue scorched the nets for 55.6% shooting from the floor, while hitting 12-22 from behind the arc.
“We shared the ball really well,” Keaton Grant said after coming off the Boilermaker bench to knock down five three-pointers. “The guys gave me good looks. I think I definitely like the rim. I like shooting here. The offense flows a lot better when we’re in this building.”
Robbie Hummel’s explanation for his team’s strong offensive showing was short and to the point. “I think the guys were sick of losing.”
Coach Matt Painter’s team was coming off a miserable performance in East Lansing, at one point scoring only two field goals in a stretch of nearly sixteen minutes. Needless to say, Painter was pleased with his team’s scoring outburst after two consecutive conference losses.
“Sometimes in a season you get into slumps,” Painter said. “Just like hitters in baseball. It was good to see our guys have a bounce-back game and be able to go out and score the 51 points in the first half to give them that confidence.”
Purdue advanced to Saturday’s semifinals despite minimal contributions from All-Big Ten center JaJuan Johnson. Johnson was saddled with foul trouble throughout, and finished with a season-low four points in seventeen minutes.
He wasn’t complaining, though. “We shot the ball really well,” Johnson said of his teammates on the perimeter. “One of our best shooting performances of the year, and it’s a great time to have that.”
“Anytime you can get a win in your hometown, you’re pretty happy,” the Indianapolis native concluded.
Johnson and the Boilermakers move on to face an Illinois team that has defeated them in three consecutive meetings, including a 74-67 overtime decision here in last year’s tournament quarterfinals.
From Purdue’s perspective, the keys to finally getting past the Illini are rebounding and stopping dribble penetration. In the games they’ve lost this season, the Boilermakers have a tendency to work hard at getting stops on the defensive end, but then fail to corral the rebound. After Friday’s win over Penn State, the locker room consensus was that the Boilers will have to focus on the glass if they want to continue to take steps toward winning their first-ever Big Ten tournament title.
“We’ve got to play harder and we’ve got to play tougher than Illinois [tomorrow]”, Matt Painter summarized.
Of course, shooting the lights out again at Conseco wouldn’t hurt either.