Even the bench can’t slow Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan No. 23 Boilers head to No. 17 Maryland for Saturday showdown.
Sometimes even the nation’s best player, and Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan might very well be that guy, needs a little pine time.
The emphasis is on “little.”
The bench remains a wonderful coaching tool for providing perspective. So when Swanigan began Wednesday night’s win over No. 25 Northwestern with three straight turnovers, coach Matt Painter pulled him and put in Isaac Haas.
Swanigan didn’t pout or vent. When he got back in, and he soon did because Painter ain’t dumb, he went on the kind of tear only the best players can deliver. He had 24 points and 16 rebounds in a team-leading 33 minutes.
It was Swanigan’s school-record 19th double-double of the season. It’s the most by a Big Ten player since Michigan State’s Draymond Green had 22 five years ago.
Yes, it leads the nation.
What was Painter’s message to Swanigan during his brief benching?
“I told him to settle down,” Painter said. “(Northwestern) did a good job of getting hands on the ball and knocking it free. When he went back in, he was aggressive on the glass. He let things come to him.
“He’s a great player. Some great players, when they face adversity, sometimes it’s hard for them to come back in the game. He can come back. He keeps playing hard.
“He has to take better care of the ball. That’s been his Achilles heel. He has to cut down on his turnovers. He sets the tone for us. He can hit threes, he can pass and he’s best rebounder in the country.”
The numbers show that Swanigan, a former Homestead standout, is tied for the nation’s best rebounder title with Seton Hall’s Angelo Delgado. They both average 12.9 a game.
Swanigan averages 18.8 points. He shoots 55.2 percent from the field, 50 percent (24-for-48) from three-point range and 79.4 percent from the line. He averages 2.9 assists a game, which is really good, and 3.6 turnovers, which is really not.
A few hours after the Northwestern win, word broke that the 6-8 Swanigan was one of 10 finalists for the Karl Malone Award, given annually to the nation’s best power forward.
His competition is Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen, Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson, UCLA’s T.J. Leaf, Valparaiso’s Alex Peters, Pitt’s Michael Young, Michigan State’s Miles Bridges, Baylor’s Johnathan Motley, Memphis’ Dedric Lawson and California’s Ivan Rabb.
Oh, and if Swanigan decides to enter the NBA draft this spring, a CBSSports.com mock draft has him going No. 24 to the Brooklyn Nets.
But that’s a side story to Purdue’s main quest of winning the Big Ten championship. The No. 23 Boilers are 7-3 in the conference, and face a huge road swing with games at No. 17 Maryland on Saturday and at Indiana next Thursday.
Maryland and Wisconsin lead the conference with 8-1 records.
Purdue (18-5) has been an enigma this season, with a versatile lineup that can overpower with size or dazzle with perimeter shooting. It is 3-0 against the conference’s top teams (beating Wisconsin, Michigan State and Northwestern), but is 0-3 against Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska, which are a combined 12-16 in conference play.
Still the Boilers have been able to bounce back quickly from a loss. That’s an attribute Painter would rather avoid by winning.
“You hope you don’t have to get into that,” he said. “You hope you have the maturity to stay on edge when you win two, three, four in a row. Losing puts you on edge.
“There has been some slippage in games. I have to do a better job as a coach to not let that slippage happen. We’ve had some guys have career nights on us. We’ve let some people come off the bench and do some real damage. You have to respect the people who come off the bench. Just because you don’t start doesn’t mean you’re not a good player.”
Maryland is 20-2 with a seven-game winning streak. It hasn’t lost since falling at home to Nebraska, 67-65, on Jan. 1. It is 10-1 in games decided by six points or less.
The Terrapins thrive with depth. Eleven players average at least 11 minutes a game.
Guard Melo Trimble leads with a 17.0 scoring average. He also averages 3.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists. Forward Justin Jackson averages 11.5 points and 6.3 rebounds. Guard Anthony Cowan averages 10.8 points and 4.0 rebounds.
While Purdue has had occasional defensive lapses, its offense has been potent. It ranks second in the Big Ten in scoring (82.6 points to Indiana’s 83.0), and leads in three-point shooting (42.4 percent) and in assists (19.6 a game). In just conference games, it leads in scoring at 80.3.
The reason, Painter said, is simple.
“It’s moving the ball and being unselfish. We try to push the ball and set a tone. We want to try to get something before you get your defense set. If not, we want to get you in rotation and get the ball out of our hands as quick as possible. When we don’t do that, that’s when we struggle.” <br>
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Tip-off: Purdue at Maryland, noon, Saturday
Radio: ESPN Radio, 1380-AM