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Purdue seeks win, not upset, against Spartans

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Tipoff: Michigan State at Purdue, 7 p.m., tonight
Radio: 1380-AM
TV: ESPN

Boilers focus on game, not postseason

Thursday, February 20, 2014 - 6:37 am

The numbers make it clear -- Michigan State is the favorite over Purdue tonight at Mackey Arena.

The Boilers don't buy it.

“If we win, I don't think it would be an upset,” sophomore swingman Rapheal Davis said. “We're a good team. Our record doesn't reflect it.

“We just have to play hard. It would be a good win, another confidence booster to help us go farther in the season, but it wouldn't be an upset.”

If Davis is confused, and a cynic would suggest he is, he's not the only Boiler who is, even though Purdue is a 4.5-point underdog.

“Beating Michigan State won't be an upset for us,” senior forward Errick Peck said.

Let's look at the facts. The Spartans are ranked No. 13 with a 21-5 record, 10-3 in the Big Ten. They are tied with Michigan atop the Big Ten standings. When healthy, they rank with Syracuse as national title favorites.

Purdue (15-10, 5-7) is not ranked and is in the bottom half of the Big Ten standings. It is prone to roller coaster performances that leave coach Matt Painter fretting over immature play. It has committed 15 turnovers in each of its last three games.

But the Boilers have a new philosophy, and if it's the same as the old one, let's not quibble over details.

It's a 0-0 world, you see.

“Since the second half of the season, we've said we'll take each game, each practice, one at a time,” guard Sterling Carter said. “Our record is 0-0. Our practices are 0-0. After each practice, after each weight lifting (session), we want to be 1-0. So that's our team motto, that we're 0-0 until the end of the day, or until after the game.”

It's easy to say you'll stay in the moment, but when you know the stakes if you can follow Saturday's Indiana victory with a win over Michigan State and then get victories over Nebraska, Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin and Northwestern, well, it's easy to get carried away with March Madness thoughts.

Unless your coach is stay-in-the-moment Matt Painter.

“No matter what the scenario is, you have to keep your focus on the moment and the next game,” he said. “Michigan State is a very good team. I don't know how you could not be locked into them.

“Anytime you have a good win like we did (against Indiana), you want to build on it. You want to keep your focus on the next opponent. This is important for both teams.”

It's important for Davis because all the extra work is starting to pay off. In his last two games, the former South Side standout is 7-for-9 from the field while averaging 9.0 points and 3.0 rebounds.

“My confidence is the highest it's been all season," Davis said. "I'm paying attention to defense. Just seeing the ball go through the net, all the work is paying off. When balls go in, it makes everything easier. I've been coming in the gym a lot. It's about staying confident and being ready when I go out there. If you focus on the little things, everything else will fall into place.”

Painter has noticed.

“We're trying to get him to have some consistency. “One thing that helped him last year was he played hard and competed. He did more than the people at his spot. ... He has to be able to be productive. He hasn't been consistent in that area. That's what he's striving to get. We want to keep building on it.”

Michigan State continues to battle health issues. Point guard Keith Appling's wrist injury leaves him a mystery man. He played 19 minutes in last week's Nebraska loss and struggled so much that coach Tom Izzo said he might sit him out the rest of the regular season.

In the last four games, with Appling barely playing, Michigan State is 2-2. Guard Gary Harris shot less than 30 percent from the field during the stretch, a big problem considering he's one of the nation's top shooting guards.

Forward Brandon Dawson remains out with a broken hand. He hasn't played all month and might not play until next month's Big Ten tourney.

Izzo was unhappy with the Spartans' competitiveness in last weekend's Nebraska loss: “We got punched and didn't punch back.” He talked about only playing guys who practice and returning to the “war drills,” which are designed to steel players for inside-the-paint battles.

That's the Spartans' problems. The Boilers have a different focus.

“They're a huge team,” forward Errick Peck said. “We have to keep them out of transition, limit them on the glass and fight after every ball. If do that, we'll be fine.”