Purdue’s Big Ten title at stake against Indiana Boilermaker center Isaac Haas is innocent – or is he?

Isaac Haas shrinks the hallway outside Purdue’s basketball locker room, just as he shrinks just about anything he approaches.

He is 7-2 and 295 pounds and, of course, an innocent man.

Those travels and turnovers and fouls that get called on him are conspiracies perpetrated by confused officials.

And if the film says otherwise, well, sometimes what you think isn’t always what is.

“In the heat of the moment,” Haas says with a smile, “you don’t recognize it.”

As drama builds toward tonight’s clash with rival Indiana – clinching at least a share of the Big Ten title is at stake – Haas figures to have a key role. The junior center averages career highs in scoring (13.4), rebounding (5.4) and free throw shooting (71.5 percent) as part of the Big Ten’s most formidable inside game.

Yes, he was a limited factor in Saturday’s loss at Michigan (eight points on 4-for-10 shooting, six rebounds) and in Purdue’s earlier win over IU at Assembly Hall (six points on 2-for-8 shooting, six rebounds), but don’t expect a Mackey Arena repeat.

It very well could start with Haas’s understanding that perceived innocence isn’t always reality.

Take those turnovers.

“When you’re in the moment,” Haas says, “a lot of times you feel it’s a good move. But once you calm down emotionally, and the journalist thoughts pop in, and you revisit it by watching the film, it’s like, ‘Okay, it’s a travel because I took this small little step.’ You watch it on film. Then you try not to make that mistake again.”

Coach Matt Painter wants to see it as well as hear it.

“During a course of a game he never owns things. We’re trying to get him to understand these possessions are important. You’ve got to play without doing those things. That being said, look at his numbers (in the Feb. 18 win against Michigan State). He gets 18 (points) and five (rebounds) in 19 minutes.

“The thing for him, is to be objective. Every time he comes off the court, he says he didn’t do it, he didn’t travel and he didn’t foul. You go back over the tape and you tell him, ‘You did travel and you did foul.’ We want to get him to be objective during the game. Tape doesn’t lie. When you watch film, there it is.”

At times, Haas is as efficient as any player in the Big Ten, if not the country. Against Rutgers he had 24 points and 11 rebounds in 26 minutes. He had 24 points and six rebounds in 22 minutes against Illinois.

“When Isaac is efficient,” Painter says, “he’s simple.

“(During his last turnover against Michigan State), he started spinning and they called a travel. When he does that, he’s not thinking right. He’s not focusing. When he keeps it simple and does his drop step or turnaround or hook, he’s really effective.”

Purdue maximizes that effectiveness by consistently getting the ball inside to Haas and forward Caleb Swanigan.

“(The guards) know to feed the post,” Haas says. “We’re an inside-out team. That’s what we do. That’s what makes us special. Our guards know if we get the ball one on one, we’re going to score. If not, and here comes the double (team), we’ll kick it out and they’ll hit the three. We’re unselfish as a team. That helps us win games.”

Tuesday night would be a huge game to win. Purdue has never clinched at least a tie for a Big Ten title on Senior Night against Indiana. Doing so would be the Boilers’ record 23rd conference championship, one more than the Hoosiers.

This will be just the fifth time Purdue has played IU on Senior Night. It won three of the previous four, including a memorable upset in 1992 that ignited one of the all-time Bob Knight coaching tirades.

In that season, the Hoosiers needed a win to tie Ohio State for the Big Ten championship and earn a couple of games in Indianapolis as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney. They had already beaten Purdue 106-65 in Bloomington.

But Woody Austin and Craig Riley sparked a huge rally in the closing minutes for a 61-59 Boiler upset victory.

Besides costing IU a Big Ten title, it knocked the Hoosiers to a No. 2 NCAA tourney seed and a trip to Boise. Knight was so furious he cancelled the team banquet, stripped Eric Anderson and Jamal Meeks of their team co-captains status and launched into a bizarre series of press conferences that included references to water torture, whipping players and something called cerebral reversal.

That’s irrelevant to these No. 16 Boilers. They are 23-6 overall and 12-4 in the Big Ten, with wins in nine of their last 11 games, although they are coming off a decisive loss at Michigan on Saturday that cost them two poll spots. They have a one-game lead over Wisconsin with two to play. They own the tiebreaker with the Badgers since they won the only meeting between the two.

Maryland, Minnesota and Michigan State are all 10-6.

Wisconsin has helped Purdue by losing four of its last five games. It hosts Iowa and Minnesota this week.

Painter’s message to the Boilers is simple — the conference race can’t be a distraction from doing the necessary things to beat Indiana (16-13, 6-10).

“It doesn’t take anything away from the focus. It’s good to get some help, but it doesn’t change what your mindset should be going into the next game. Your approach should be the same. It does add some incentive.” <br>

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Tip-off: Indiana at Purdue, 7 tonight