Purdue hasn’t had much success the first 10 years of the Big Ten tournament. It’s hoping that having its highest seed in the tournament’s history can help change that.
The second-seeded and No. 17 Boilermakers look to win for the 15th time in their last 17 games as they face Illinois on Friday in the conference quarterfinals at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Purdue (24-7) reached the finals of the inaugural Big Ten tournament in 1998 as the No. 3 seed, losing to Michigan. Since that defeat, the Boilermakers are just 2-9 in the tournament and have lost five times to a lower seed.
One of their two wins came last season, when fifth-seeded Purdue knocked off Iowa in the quarterfinals before losing to top-seeded Ohio State.
The Boilermakers have made steady progress in coach Matt Painter’s two seasons. They finished last in the 11-team conference in 2005-06 prior to his arrival.
“Since we’ve been down a couple years ago, we have guys that want to prove that we belong,” Painter said. “It’s been a tough climb, but we didn’t achieve our goal of winning the Big Ten (regular-season) championship. If we could win the title, that’d be great, but this team has already made some history.”
The Boilermakers should be familiar with the 10th-seeded Fighting Illini (14-18), whom they already beat twice.
Sophomore Keaton Grant had 22 points and junior Nemanja Calasan added 17 in the first meeting, a 74-67 win in West Lafayette on Jan. 19.
Two weeks later in Champaign, freshman E’Twaun Moore led the way with 24 points, while reserve guard Marcus Green had 15 off the bench in an 83-75 victory.
Eight different players have led Purdue in scoring in a game, with Moore leading the way nine times.
Moore, who averaged a team-high 12.4 points, was named second-team All-Big Ten earlier this week by the conference coaches and media. The Boilermakers also had a first-team selection, fellow freshman Robbie Hummel.
The 6-foot-8 Hummel, who averages 11.7 points and a team-high 5.9 rebounds, is the first Purdue player to make the first team as a freshman.
“It’s quite an honor for anyone to be named first team in this league, let alone a freshman,” said Painter. “Robbie has gotten better and better as the season has progressed. He’s a guy we count on to do a lot of things, so this honor is very deserving.”
The Boilermakers are one of the country’s stingiest defensive teams. They allow only 60.8 points per game—among the top 20 in the nation—led by conference steals leader and defensive player of the year Chris Kramer.
Kramer had three steals in Purdue’s 72-58 win at Michigan on Sunday to close the regular season.
Illinois had its first sub-.500 conference record since it finished 3-13 in Big Ten play in 1998-99.
But the Illini upset seventh-seeded Penn State 64-63 on Wednesday in the tournament’s first round thanks to Chester Frazier’s reverse layup with 3.8 seconds left.
“It’s been so many games down the stretch where we’ve been up or down a point, and we let the game go,” said center Shaun Pruitt, who had 10 points and 11 rebounds. “It’s good to be on the other side for once.”
Pruitt, a senior, is the team’s leading scorer (12.5) and rebounder (7.1). Guard Trent Meachem, who averages 10.7 points, has scored 35 points his last two games.
The winner of this game will play either No. 22 Indiana or Minnesota on Saturday.