Just last week, Purdue was out of sync and scuffling, and didn’t look much like a NCAA tournament team.
It’s now making those frustrations a thing of the past.
The 24th-ranked Boilermakers look to win their first Big Ten tournament title Sunday when they meet Ohio State, which is coming off an impressive upset and seeking its second tournament crown in three years.
Led by a healthy Robbie Hummel, third-seeded Purdue (24-9) is in rhythm and playing like the team that was picked in preseason to win the Big Ten title.
After beating No. 6 seed Penn State 79-65 in the conference tournament quarterfinals Friday, the Boilermakers defeated second-seeded Illinois 66-56 in Saturday’s semifinals. In the two games, Purdue’s connected on 19 of 39 3-pointers and committed only 10 turnovers.
Hummel, who had been slowed by a stress fracture in his back, has been carrying the offense. The sophomore forward had 19 points, 12 rebounds and made all four 3-point attempts against the Illini after finishing with 20 points and shooting 8 of 12 Friday.
“My back feels real good,” Hummel said. “It’s been good to get back out there. I think it’s just good for us to be on the floor together. The more time we have, the better we’ll be.”
The Boilermakers are playing in their first league title game since 1998 - the first year of the Big 10 tournament.
Purdue is in the midst of an impressive turnaround. The Boilermakers lost three of their final four regular-season games, including a home defeat to Northwestern.
“I think we’ve just been coming out with a lot of intensity,” said all-conference center JaJuan Johnson, who had 20 points Saturday. “We had a bitter taste in our mouths coming into this tournament. I think it’s important having these wins going into the NCAA tournament.”
Purdue’s only win in its final four regular-season contests was a 75-50 victory over Ohio State on Feb. 28. Hummel had 17 points and Johnson added 12 for Purdue, which shot 54.7 percent from the field.
Johnson had one of his best games in the Boilermakers’ first meeting of the season with the Buckeyes, finishing with a career-high 30 points and shooting 10-for-16 in an 80-72 overtime loss at Columbus on Feb. 3. Hummel missed that contest due to his back injury.
The fifth-seeded Buckeyes (22-9) knocked off the regular season Big Ten champion, No. 7 Michigan State, 82-70 in Saturday’s other semifinal. It was the fourth straight win after a 1-4 stretch for Ohio State, which won the conference tournament in 2002 and 2007.
“I think those guys are starting to come together,” coach Thad Matta said. “Hopefully we’ll see that improve as we keep moving forward.”
Sophomore guard Evan Turner led four Buckeyes in double figures against the Spartans. The first-team all-league selection scored all 18 of his points in the second half as Ohio State shot 53.2 percent from the field and made 9 of 16 3-point attempts.
“I just think we’re really focused right now,” said Turner, who had 26 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists in last month’s win over Purdue. “We just came together. This was a good team win all around. We all keyed in for 40 minutes to play hard.”