Purdue and Tennessee entered the Paradise Jam as favorites to reach the title game. That matchup now will take place.
After surviving close calls against a pair of unranked opponents, the sixth-ranked Boilermakers and No. 9 Volunteers will play for the tournament crown Monday night at the University of Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center.
Purdue (3-0) and Tennessee (4-0) entered this season expecting to compete for their respective conference titles and make runs at the NCAA tournament.
Both teams are off to fast starts, but needed to overcome some adversity to face each other in the title game of the Paradise Jam. They have only met twice before, in the 1980-81 and 1981-82 seasons, splitting those matchups with the home team winning each time.
The Boilermakers opened this tournament with a 74-63 win over South Dakota State on Friday, as coach Matt Painter claimed his team needed to “play a lot smarter.”
That didn’t appear to happen early Sunday, as Purdue fell behind by nine points before using a 23-3 second-half run to overpower Saint Joseph’s and win 85-60, setting up the matchup with the Volunteers.
“When we fell behind it was a good opportunity for us to show some poise and keep fighting,” Painter said. “The key was our defense; (Chris) Kramer caused havoc and made it hard for them to get into their offense.”
Tennessee looked like a shoo-in for the final after winning its first two games of the season by an average of 52.0 points. The Vols carried that momentum into first round of the Paradise Jam on Friday, dominating East Carolina 105-66.
Things got a lot tougher in Sunday’s semifinals, however, as the Volunteers needed to rely on their defense before Tyler Smith converted a pair of free throws with 13.7 seconds left to beat DePaul 57-53.
“I’m going to give our defense credit tonight,” said coach Bruce Pearl, who saw his team shoot a season-low 37.3 percent but outrebounded the Blue Demons 44-30. “You win games with defense and rebounding.”
Scotty Hopson is looking for a better shooting performance against Purdue after getting a season-low four points on 2-for-10 shooting, including an 0-for-4 effort from 3-point range. The sophomore guard had 25 points in each of the previous two contests and leads Tennessee with an average of 17.5 points - up from the 9.2 he averaged as a freshman.
If Hopson struggles again Monday, the Volunteers have a trio of other solid scorers to rely upon, with Smith and swingman Cameron Tatum averaging 12.5 points and forward Wayne Chism getting 10.5.
Tennessee is shooting 51.8 percent from the floor and 47.7 from beyond the arc.
“Tennessee has the ability to beat you in a lot of different ways,” Painter said. “They have a lot of weapons.”
The Boilermakers’ scoring is also spread out with three players averaging in double-digits.
JaJuan Johnson, who shot 8 for 12 and had a season-high 18 points against the Hawks, leads the team with 15.3 points per game. E’Twaun Moore is averaging 14.0, and forward Robbie Hummel is scoring 13.3.
Johnson and Hummel, both juniors, are also combining for 13.6 rebounds per contest.