An impressive winning streak and outstanding start to the Big Ten season has moved Purdue into the Top 25 for the first time in four years.
The 24th-ranked Boilermakers will try to win eight straight for the first time in nearly eight years on Tuesday night when they host Penn State, a team looking to upset a ranked opponent for a second consecutive game.
Purdue (17-5, 8-1) is tied atop the conference standings with Wisconsin, which faces Iowa on Wednesday. The Boilermakers’ surprising surge, which has helped them crack the rankings for the first time since Jan. 26, 2004, has been aided in part by their best start in conference play since opening 9-1 in 1989-90.
“I think it’s great any time you can have success and you can get some recognition in the polls,” said Boilermakers coach Matt Painter. “Obviously, our goal is not to get ranked. Our goal is to get ranked and stay ranked.
“I think when you do that and teams that stay in the Top 25 throughout the year, it means they are having consistency and winning a lot of games. With that, that means continued success.”
Purdue is looking for its first eight-game winning streak since Feb. 2-27, 2000.
The Boilermakers got closer to that mark Saturday as E’Twaun Moore had a season-high 24 points in an 83-75 win at Illinois. The performance, which came after the freshman guard had a team-high 12 points in a 51-50 win over the Hawkeyes on Jan. 30, helped him earn co-Big Ten player of the week honors with Indiana’s D.J. White.
Moore, who is tied with sophomore guard Keaton Grant for the team lead with 11.0 points per game, has been terrific over the last four games, shooting 60.5 percent from the floor —44.4 percent from beyond the arc—to average 15.8 points. In that span, he had an 11-point performance in a 64-42 win over the Nittany Lions (11-10, 3-6) on Jan. 23.
“He has an ability to score in a lot of different ways,” Painter said. “He’s learning when to pick his spots. He is making a lot of improvements. There’s no doubt that he is feeling more comfortable out there.”
Purdue has won the last three meetings and eight of the last 10 against Penn State, but Painter is wary of the matchup after the Lions stunned then-eighth-ranked Michigan State 85-76 on Saturday to halt a season-high six-game slide.
“I told our guys it’s going to be a dogfight,” Painter said. “These guys are going to be gunning for us. Our guys have to understand that they have to be ready to play and be hooked up and go right at Penn State at the start of the game.”
Penn State made 34 of 51 free throws to secure the victory over the Spartans for only its second win in 29 games against a ranked opponent. The performance was even more impressive considering the Nittany Lions are without forward Geary Claxton—the team leader with 17.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game—for the rest of the season after he suffered a knee injury during an 80-55 loss to Wisconsin on Jan. 15.
“This feels like a million dollars, I guess,” said freshman guard Talor Battle, who scored 17 points. “It’s just one of those feelings that you can just talk about forever.”
Penn State hopes Stanley Pringle can build on his 19-point performance against Michigan State. The junior guard was held to only six points off the bench in the last meeting against Purdue.