Matt Painter won’t say it, but this Purdue team is gaining separation from the rest

Purdue men's basketball coach Matt Painter argues a call during the second half of a game against Indiana Sunday in Bloomington. (By The Associated Press)
Purdue's Vincent Edwards (12) goes to the basket against Indiana's Justin Smith during the first half of a game Sunday in Bloomington. (By The Associated Press)
Purdue's Isaac Haas (44) shoots over Indiana's Freddie McSwain Jr. during the first half of a game Sunday in Bloomington. (By The Associated Press)

When veteran Purdue men’s basketball coach Matt Painter was asked recently to compare this year’s incredibly-successful squad to his 2010 Big Ten championship-winning team, the usually blunt coach suddenly morphed into political-speak.

“I think that it is very comparable,” Painter said. “Both teams have some different strengths, but both teams have a very high value when it comes to competing and playing together and doing a lot of little things.”

So consider it a tie between two of the 23 Big Ten championship-winning teams in Boilermaker history. However, in terms of wins and losses (as well as possibly claiming the league title outright), with each passing victory, it is becoming more and more unlikely that the 2017-18 Purdue team will match the six defeats that the 2009-10 team had.

Purdue (21-2, 10-0 Big Ten) displayed maturity and poise down the stretch Sunday, as it survived an emotionally-fueled Indiana team in Bloomington and won 74-67 in front of a packed Assembly Hall.

The Hoosiers (12-10, 5-5) had scored to pull to within one possession with 69 seconds remaining, but the Boilermakers executed with near perfection after that by drawing fouls, hitting free throws, and forcing a turnover and a missed shot to pull away for their sixth win over their rival in the past seven games in the series.

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It was the program’s 17th consecutive victory, which is the longest in school history.

“The way they play off of each other,” Hoosier star forward Juwan Morgan said of the Boilermakers following the game, “they’re just shooting the ball at a tremendous rate.”

Except that Purdue didn’t do that Sunday; yet it still won.

The Boilermakers had their second-worst shooting performance from 3-point range of the entire year, but found ways to score off of drives (Vince Edwards a lot) and Isaac Haas (in the post a lot).

Edwards finished with 19 points, while Haas put in a game-best 26 points.

You can forgive Morgan for his analysis, because Purdue does indeed shoot the ball well. In fact, the Boilermakers are crushing the rest of the Big Ten in 3-point shooting percentage, which Painter said is one area that does separate this team from any great Purdue squad that he has had.

“The thing that we do differently than (the 2010 championship) team is that everybody can shoot,” Painter said. “So we keep you honest.”

This Purdue squad is shooting over 44 percent from 3-point range for the season and nearly 48 percent in league play. To put that astonishing level of accuracy into perspective, the aforementioned 2010 squad connected at just a 31.8 percent rate.

Indiana’s defensive strategy was to try and do what Michigan recently did, which was to guard Haas singularly.

It depends on your perspective as to how successful that strategy was.

Both Indiana and Michigan had opportunities late to win the games (the Wolverines have lost twice to Purdue this season by a combined five points), but Haas prevented them from doing so with incredible production (he has scored 67 points in the aforementioned three games) throughout those nights.

“When you see Isaac down there,” Painter explained, “and they stay one-on-one, that’s just a back-handed compliment to the rest of our guys, because you should (double-team) him.”

But that doesn’t work either.

Aside from the three games mentioned, Purdue has won its other seven league games by nearly 20 points per game.

“It just opens everything up for us,” Edwards said recently. “And having shooters, everybody on this team can shoot the ball and handle the ball, have some type of skill set. Everyone’s a little different from the other.

“But Isaac is getting the ball down low and he’s going with his back to the basket, being strong with the ball. It’s a tough guard.”

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

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