WASHINGTON (AP)—Fun time is over for Purdue. After ringing up a season-high 90 points in a rout of Baylor, the Boilermakers anticipate a gritty, deliberate affair against Xavier on Saturday.
Purdue’s 10th straight opening-round win in the NCAA tournament was a frolic in which the sixth-seeded Boilermakers happily joined the Bears in a two-hour track meet on a 94-foot tract of hardwood. There will be none of that against No. 3 seed Xavier in the second round of the West Regional.
“No doubt about it, it’s going to be a lot different,” Purdue guard Tarrance Crump said Friday.
Warning: This game might induce drowsiness to those basketball fans who enjoy fast breaks, open jump shots and transition dunks.
“I think it’s going to be real fun to watch, especially if you like defense and the grind-it-out style, like a Big Ten style of game,” Purdue guard Chris Kramer said.
Xavier (28-6) ranked first in the Atlantic-10 in field goal percentage defense and is allowing only 62.3 points per game. Purdue (25-8) led the Big Ten in turnover margin, ranked second in steals and has yielded fewer than 63 points in 20 of 33 games.
Neither team has any intention of doing anything different Saturday.
“I don’t think you can advance in tournament play unless you have a strong identity on defense,” Musketeers coach Sean Miller said.
Xavier takes its lead from guard Stanley Burrell, who averages less than 10 points per game but makes his mark on the other end of the court. Covering the other team’s best perimeter shooter is a thankless job that is not always evident in the box score, but Burrell’s pride in playing defense has earned him the respect of his teammates, dozens of opponents and, of course, his coach.
“It takes a special person to take on the role of being a great defender,” Miller said. “Stan has relished that opportunity from Day 1 of this season. His enthusiasm for defense has a way of becoming contagious, especially for our younger players. Our identity defensively, and a lot of the success that we’ve had, much of it stems from that one person that has taken on that role.”
There’s no question Purdue enjoyed opening up its offense and running with Baylor in a 90-76 win. But the Boilermakers know that playing defense is imperative if they’re to avoid being dismissed in the second round for the fifth time in eight tries since 1994.
“You have to value every possession and try and take care of the ball the best you can,” Purdue freshman Scott Martin said. “I don’t see it being any different (Saturday).”
Xavier advanced by rallying from a 10-point deficit in the second half against Georgia. A similar lapse against Purdue might be impossible to overcome.
“We obviously didn’t play as well in the first half. We don’t want that to haunt us,” forward Derrick Brown said. “We have to be more prepared to take that first blow.”
The solution is simple: Play better defense against a Purdue team that can be deadly accurate from beyond the arc. Robbie Hummel, Keaton Grant and E’Twaun Moore ranked 1, 2 and 4 in the Big Ten in 3-point shooting percentage.
“They really have a couple of good shooters that can knock it down at a high rate,” Burrell said. “Our level of intensity has to be the same as it was in the second half of our game (against Georgia). If we don’t bring it, then we’ll put ourselves in a hole. They’re a much smarter team and won’t allow us to get back in the game.”
The Musketeers are looking to the round of 16 for the first time since reaching the Final Four in 2004. Purdue, which hasn’t won twice in the same NCAA tournament since 2000, lost to top-seeded Texas in the South Regional last year after defeating LSU.
“I think this team is real hungry. I’m not saying the team last year wasn’t hungry, but I think we’ve got a little more drive in us this year, a little momentum going in to it,” Grant said. “We’re not intimidated.”