This is becoming a dream season for Purdue, and a nightmare for Indiana.
The latest setback for the 15th-ranked Hoosiers involves star forward D.J. White, who hopes to overcome an injury to play Tuesday against the No. 14 Boilermakers in the intrastate rivals’ lone meeting of the regular season.
Indiana (21-4, 10-2 Big Ten) hardly needed more bad news after accusations of recruiting violations surrounded coach Kelvin Sampson last week, but that is just what they got with the injury to White. White sprained his left knee when he landed awkwardly in the first half of Saturday’s 80-61 win over then-No. 10 Michigan State.
However, coach Kelvin Sampson said Monday that doctors cleared White to play in this game, though he would not say if the senior will start. Sampson said White “did some things” in practice Monday but did not participate in live drills.
“He went skeleton against their offense and defense (in walkthroughs), and he did some shooting drills. I think he’ll be all right,” Sampson said.
The only distraction for Purdue (21-5, 12-1) recently has been the burden of its longest winning streak in nearly 15 years. The Boilermakers have won 11 in a row, and go into this contest looking to win six straight Big Ten road games for the first time in school history.
But they haven’t won at Indiana’s Assembly Hall since the 1998-99 season, and this year’s Hoosier team could be the most talented since.
Even without White - the Big Ten’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer - Indiana still managed to outscore the Spartans 39-28 in the second half Saturday. Sampson said it won’t be easy if White can’t go Tuesday, as the 6-foot-9 senior is averaging 17.1 points and 10.2 rebounds.
“You’re not going to replace D.J. with one guy,” Sampson said. “It would take an unbelievable, collective team effort.”
Another big game from freshman Eric Gordon might help, too. Gordon, the Big Ten’s leading scorer with 21.7 points per game, scored 28 points and shot 9-of-15 from the field against Michigan State, leading Indiana to its first win over a ranked opponent despite the allegations surrounding Sampson.
In an NCAA report released last week, Sampson was accused of five “major” recruiting violations, including making illegal phone calls and presenting false information to the NCAA. Sampson was also charged with making 577 improper phone calls while he coached Oklahoma.
Indiana is in the process of its own internal investigation, which is expected to be completed this week - meaning there is a slight possibility Tuesday’s game could be Sampson’s last in Bloomington.
“We play for coach every game,” Gordon said Saturday. “I think that’s why we’re all here. We came here to play for coach.”
Purdue coach Matt Painter has earned nothing but praise in his third season, leading his team to first place in the Big Ten. The Boilermakers last won 11 in a row during the 1995-96 season, and they haven’t won 12 straight since a 14-game run in 1993-94.
They are off to their best start in conference play since the 1987-88 season.
The Boilermakers maintained a one-game lead atop the Big Ten with a 71-56 win at Northwestern on Saturday, as freshman E’Twaun Moore had a season-high 28 points.
Moore, who leads Purdue with 11.9 points per game, has scored in double figures in eight straight games, shooting 58.1 percent over that span.
“He’s just a good basketball player,” Painter said. “He’s able to be efficient and take his time. He doesn’t get in a hurry too much. He’s a shot-maker. He shoots pull-ups, he shoots floaters, he shoots 3s. He’s an all-around player.”
Freshman forward Robbie Hummel had just nine points against Northwestern, but had averaged 20.7 in the previous three games, shooting 23-of-36 (63.9 percent) during that span.
Purdue’s five leading scorers are all freshmen or sophomores.
Most of those players were not on the team or hardly involved in the game when the Boilermakers lost 85-58 in Bloomington last season for their seventh straight defeat at Assembly Hall. They had lost five in a row to the Hoosiers overall before winning at home 81-68 last Feb. 15.
A win would give Purdue leads and tiebreakers over both No. 11 Wisconsin and Indiana, its chief competitors for the Big Ten regular-season title.