Purdue big man doing just that in a myriad of ways

Purdue center Isaac Haas, center, celebrates with forwards Matt Haarms, left, and Jacquil Taylor, right, after making the game-winning free throw at the end of a game against Michigan at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich. Tuesday. (By The Associated Press)

What a difference a year makes for Purdue senior center Isaac Haas.

A year ago, the Boilermakers lost 82-70 at Michigan and Haas was fairly ineffective.

In that defeat, he missed 6 of his 10 shots and didn’t even attempt a free throw.

Fast forward to Tuesday evening and No. 5-ranked Purdue survived with a 70-69 win in Ann Arbor and Haas played a massive role in the win.

Not only did he score 17 points and grab six boards, but he also blocked a pair of shots and his final point came at the free throw line with a mere :04 remaining, which is becoming an invaluable place for him to be in his final season.

Haas has increased his free throw makes from 2.7 per game last season to nearly five per game this year.

“When you are that good of a low-post scorer,” veteran Boiler coach Matt Painter said earlier this season regarding Haas, “and you can hit your free throws…”

Haas isn’t just getting to the free throw line more, he’s making them.

After shooting just 54.7 percent as a freshman, Haas has steadily improved that area of his game to the point that he is now connecting nearly 80 percent of the time (78.4).

“I think that it is very hard to guard Isaac,” Painter said. “I know that is an understatement. That preparation for people is very difficult, because sometimes what you tell them doesn’t work. He’s just that big.”

And he is just that effective.

Not only has Haas’ free throw shooting improved, his shooting, period, has as well.

He has never shot better in a season than 59.4 percent, but he is making almost 63 percent this season.

A year ago, he scored at least 17 points in Big Ten play just four times in 18 games, but he has already done so three times in the Boilers’ initial five conference games.

“If they want to double,” Painter said of defensive strategies against Haas, “or they don’t double, and what do they want to give up? If they want to let us shoot 3’s or they just want to play him one-on-one, he normally is going to foul somebody out.”

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Which is what happened in the waning seconds Tuesday.

Painter called a play to get the ball to Haas – eventually – with the game on the line.

“It’s just something basic we run to try and isolate him,” Painter explained. “We normally try to go to one of the other guys and then throw it to (Isaac), but (Michigan) did a good job denying (passes), so we were able to get it directly to him.”

Haas is not only more effective with his play; he is actually on the court long enough this season to be effective.

As a junior, he played 26 minutes in league play just one time, but this year he has played that many minutes in four of Purdue’s five league games.

“The one thing that he hasn’t done here,” Painter explained, “and you can put it on me, because we’ve had some pretty good post guys, is that he hasn’t stayed in the game a long time. The more that he can stay in the game, he’s going to get to the free throw line and accumulate fouls.”

“People are fouling him a lot, even when it doesn’t get called. Now, he might do some things, too. I understand that, also.”

The win kept Purdue (16-2, 5-0 Big Ten) atop the league standings, one game ahead of Ohio State (13-4, 4-0).

The Boilermakers will travel to Minnesota (13-4, 2-2) Saturday at noon (ESPN2).

For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.