Matt Painter: Purdue hasn’t met any goals yet

Purdue men's basketball coach Matt Painter motions to his team during the first half of a recent game against Indiana in Bloomington. (By The Associated Press)

Purdue won its 11th consecutive Big Ten Conference game without a defeat Wednesday, and without question veteran Boilermaker coach Matt Painter was pleased. However, pleased and satisfied are two different things.

“Your goal is not to win 11 Big Ten games,” Painter explained after his team beat Maryland 75-67 in front of a sold-out Mackey Arena. “Your goal is to win the Big Ten.”

For the No. 3-ranked Boilermakers (22-2, 11-0 Big Ten), one might think that being 11-0 is a good spot to be in, and it is. However, just like Painter isn’t satisfied, he isn’t comfortable either.

Purdue still has seven league games remaining, including Wednesday against Ohio State (19-5, 10-1) and the following Saturday at Michigan State (21-3, 9-2). Both should be absolutely arduous tasks to survive.

“Maybe that’s 17 wins,” Painter said of what it takes to win a league title. “Maybe 16 wins (or) maybe 15 wins.

“We’ve been through it enough to where 13-5 is tied for the league championship, 14-4 won it last year by two games.”

Yeah, that ain’t happening this season.

Aside from visiting Mackey next week, the 17th-ranked Buckeyes have road tests remaining at Penn State (which recently won in Columbus), Michigan and Indiana to close their regular season.

For the No. 5 Spartans, they are at Indiana on Saturday and host Purdue Feb. 10, but other than that, they should be unbeaten the remainder of the way.

So it is entirely feasible that losing three games is one too many this year if a team wants to claim a championship.

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Painter has won the league twice in his career, including last year. He understands the narrow focus needed at this time of the season if a team is going to eventually claim the title.

“Stay with what your goals are,” Painter said. “Your goal is to win the league, not win 10 games. We won our 11th conference game; it’s not one of our goals.

“Now, being able to win a road game against Rutgers, that’s our challenge. We kind of stay right there. I know that is kind of coach’s talk and it’s simple, but it’s what we do whether we win or lose.”

Purdue will travel to league doormat Rutgers (12-12, 2-9) Saturday at 4 p.m. (BTN), and senior guard Dakota Mathias explained that Painter and his assistants will make sure that the Scarlet Knights are not being overlooked in any way, shape or form.

The Boilermakers have already clobbered Rutgers 82-51 in West Lafayette a month ago, but that simply won’t matter.

“Our coaching staff has done a good job of keeping us on edge,” Mathias said. “There are a lot of mistakes that we’ve been making, a couple of games, if we would have lost, it would have magnified some of our mistakes.”

That isn’t hyperbole on the part of Mathias, he’s right.

Maryland cut its deficit to three points in the second half Wednesday, before faltering down the stretch, while in Purdue’s two previous wins (at Indiana and against Michigan); the outcomes weren’t decided until the final minutes.

“Even when you win,” Mathias said, “you can learn stuff you mess up. We do a good job of watching film, correcting those things regardless of outside noise, what people are saying.”

That surely is easier said than done right now in West Lafayette.

It isn’t just “what people are saying” about Purdue right now, it’s the magnitude of what is being thrown around on social media, in print and on television.

The Boilers are great, everyone knows it, and everyone is already building up expectations for next month way beyond comprehension for early February.

Painter and Mathias may be focused on Rutgers, but the “Paint Crew” already has visions of a Final Four trip swirling within their young minds.

“I’m kind of shut off from the outside,” Painter said. “I kind of stay in my own world no matter if we win or lose. It helps me because I don’t react if it’s something I don’t know.”

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