Yes, the fact that tonight’s game is Purdue-Indiana makes it a big game for both men’s college basketball teams.
The rivalry between the state’s two Big Ten schools has not been muted by the fact that Purdue has, of late, been among the conference’s best while Indiana has been one of its worst.
But with the No. 8 Boilermakers (22-5, 11-3 Big Ten) in position to capture the regular-season conference title, Purdue coach Matt Painter wants his players focused on that goal.
“We put ourselves in a position that, three weeks ago, we didn’t know if we’d be here,” Painter said Monday on the Big Ten coaches’ teleconference.
That position came after Purdue defeated second-ranked and conference-leading Ohio State 76-63 on Sunday, the Boilermakers’ fourth straight win.
The streak includes a victory over No. 12 Wisconsin, the other team in contention for the Big Ten regular season title.“We’ve been able to string together some wins,” Painter said. “Now every game becomes the biggest game for us, just like it is for every team. …
“I know it’s a rivalry game,” he continued, “[and] it’s always fun to play and coach in these games, but you’ve got to keep your focus on what you need to do as a player and what we need to do as a coach to try and win this game.”
Indiana (12-15, 3-11) certainly could use a win.
The Hoosiers have lost four in a row, most recently a 70-64 setback at home on Saturday to Northwestern that prompted coach Tom Crean to say afterward that he wished he could take his team to practice right after midnight.
Instead, he had to wait until 7:30 Sunday morning to work on his team’s defensive effort.
“It was a very short night for the coaches, and probably for the players as well. But they were ready to go,” Crean said. “I think in a situation like that, you break down exactly what happened, you lay off the accountability and the responsibility based on what the numbers say, and the assignment of responsibility more or less, and say this is what we gave up, this is how you participated in it, but you don’t spend the rest of the time playing a blame game.
“Accountability is not about blame, accountability is about understanding what’s at stake and then doing something about it,” Crean said.
What’s at stake for Indiana over the final four games of the regular season is a lineup of the conference’s top teams. After tonight’s game against Purdue, the Hoosiers are at Ohio State, back home at Wisconsin and one the road for the regular-season finale at Illinois. The Big Ten Tournament begins March 10 at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
“I can’t see anyone in the country that would be playing the type of schedule we’re playing the next two weeks,” Crean said. “It’s a great challenge, but we’re trying to get our team to understand that it’s an incredible opportunity. That’s exactly how we’re viewing it. As a coaching staff, we want our team to view it that way, our fans to view it that way, and we’re excited to get it going.”
First things first for the Hoosiers is finding a way to defeat Purdue for the first time since 2008 and containing E’Twaun Moore, the Big Ten Player of the Week who scored a career-high 38 points against Ohio State.
In that game, Moore became the fifth Boilermaker to score 2,000 career points and is just the fourth player in Big Ten history with 2,000 points, 500 rebounds and 350 assists.
“He’s got in a couple ruts this year offensively in terms of scoring,” Painter said. “He’s found his way out of those ruts and just continued to work hard and let the game come to him. I thought yesterday afternoon [against Ohio State], he let things come to him and he got into a rhythm. What looked like some tough shots a couple times were things that are comfortable for him once he gets it going.”
Moore scored a game-high 25 points in Purdue’s 67-53 win over Indiana on Feb. 8 at West Lafayette. If he gets it going tonight, it will be a long night — and maybe another early morning — for the Hoosiers.
“Our margin of error is so slim as it is, and now with the way that [Purdue is] playing,” Crean said. “It’s just got to have everything involved, it’s got to have the emotion, it’s got to have the energy, it’s got to have toughness, but most importantly it’s got to have execution.
“And those are what make great games, those are what make for great drama inside of the games and that’s going to be our only opportunity to win this game is to have all those working in that order.”