Illinois was the only Big Ten team to beat Purdue twice this season and senior guard Chester Frazier was a big reason for that success.
If the Illini are to beat the No. 24 Boilermakers for a third straight time, they’ll need someone other than their emotional leader to step up defensively as the teams meet in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament on Saturday.
Purdue (23-9) was the nation’s No. 9 team when it hosted Illinois (24-8) on Dec. 30, but the Illini held the Boilermakers to 38.1 percent shooting in a 71-67 win in overtime. They also limited then-No. 12 Purdue to a season-low point total in a 66-48 victory in Champaign on Feb. 8.
Frazier had 10 points, five assists and two steals in that second meeting, but his biggest contributions are usually on defense. He was named to the Big Ten’s all-defensive team this week and is the league leader in assists (5.3) and Illinois’ leader in steals (43) and minutes played (33.2).
Frazier, though, is expected to be sidelined for the remainder of the Big Ten tournament after undergoing surgery on his right hand. He was injured during Wednesday’s practice and underwent surgery Thursday.
“He’s a tough critter,” coach Bruce Weber said. “If he can get in there he would.”
Second-seed Illinois could certainly use him against third-seed Purdue, which will try to build off a big offensive performance in its tournament opener. The Boilermakers beat Penn State 79-65 on Friday, shooting 55.6 percent overall, including 54.5 percent (12-of-22) from 3-point range.
Illinois and Purdue finished the regular season tied for second place, but the Illini had one more non-conference victory. The Boilermakers might have had the second seed if they hadn’t lost three of four going into the postseason.
After shooting a season-low 28.3 percent in their regular-season finale against Michigan State last weekend, the Boilermakers wasted little time bouncing back Friday, shooting 63 percent in the first half for a 51-35 lead at the break.
Robbie Hummel scored 20 points while Keaton Grant and E’Twaun Moore each scored 15.
“I think the team was sick of losing,” Hummel said. “It felt good to get back in the win column.”
Purdue is looking to return to the finals for the first time since 1998 - the inaugural Big Ten tournament. The Boilermakers also reached the semifinals in 2007 before losing to Ohio State.
“If the silver lining (of losing three of four) is it puts us on edge and we play better in the NCAA tournament or Big Ten tournament … maybe it’s a good thing,” coach Matt Painter said.
Illinois, meanwhile, advanced with a 60-50 victory over Michigan in the quarterfinals Friday as Mike Davis led the way with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
Like Purdue, the Illini struggled late in the season, closing with consecutive losses.
“I think it was a great confidence boost,” Calvin Brock said. “We came out with a big chip on our shoulder and we played hard. … The two losses made us want to get a ‘W’ tonight and hopefully continue.”
Brock started in place of Frazier and was responsible for defending Michigan leading scorer Manny Harris. Harris, who came in averaging 18.5 points in his previous four games, was held to nine points on 3-of-11 shooting.
This is the third straight year the Illini have advanced to the Big Ten tournament semifinals. They lost to top-seeded Wisconsin last year in the finals.