Purdue has established itself as the Big Ten’s team to beat with 10 consecutive wins - perhaps none more impressive than a double-digit victory at Michigan State earlier this month.
To lock up the conference title, the third-ranked Boilermakers will have to respond well to a devastating setback.
Robbie Hummel was lost for the year with a torn ACL in Purdue’s latest victory, leaving E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson to carry the load starting Sunday afternoon in West Lafayette against the No. 14 Spartans.
The Boilermakers (24-3, 12-3) are on the verge of their first regular-season Big Ten title since 1996, and possibly a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Purdue survived a scoreless stretch of 11:17 surrounding halftime to beat Minnesota 59-58 on the road Wednesday, but Hummel’s injury marred the gutsy win.
Hummel, Moore and Johnson have combined for 64.6 percent of Purdue’s points this season.
“A lot of people will dwell on what you lose, but you have to be consumed with what you have,” coach Matt Painter said.
“What is in front of us is a game against Michigan State. That’s all we’re worried about. Even if we had Rob, that’s all we’d be thinking about.”
If Moore and Johnson can replicate their efforts against the Spartans (21-7, 11-4) from Feb. 9, Purdue should be in good shape. Moore had 25 points and six assists while Johnson added 19 points and three blocks in a 76-64 win in East Lansing.
The 12-point loss was Michigan State’s worst at home in more than five years.
Should Purdue manage to beat the Spartans twice for the first time since 1997, Painter’s team would control its own destiny for the regular-season title and No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament, needing victories in its remaining two games against bottom-feeders Indiana and Penn State.
If the Spartans pull the upset, Purdue, Ohio State and Michigan State would all have four losses in conference play.
Tom Izzo’s team, however, has hardly looked capable of delivering a big win lately. A 74-67 home loss to then-No. 9 Ohio State last Sunday was the Spartans’ fourth defeat in six games overall and third straight against a ranked opponent.
“Disappointed would be a foolish word right now,” Izzo said of his team’s late-season slump. “It’s more than that.”
Playing in West Lafayette hardly seems any more inviting. Michigan State has been held to 48.7 points per game in losing its last three visits to Mackey Arena by an average of 16.0 points, also committing 20.7 turnovers per game.
“This is a big gut check for us to go to Purdue,” Izzo said. “It’s a hard place to win and everything will be on the line for them and us.”
Izzo will have a nearly 100 percent Kalin Lucas this time. The junior guard was recovering from an ankle injury in the first meeting, when he came off the bench to score 12 points - below his 16.6 career average against Purdue.
He’ll be closely guarded by Chris Kramer, who’s well on his way to a fourth appearance as an All-Big Ten first team defender.
Perhaps the player Painter most needs to step up with Hummel out is Keaton Grant (6.5 ppg). The senior guard is averaging 12.7 points over his last three games, and hit two critical baskets - including the go-ahead jumper - in the final 1:24 at Minnesota.
“Keaton Grant has played like an all-conference guy the past three games,” Painter said. “He has a look, like he’s ready to play the game. He’s playing like a senior.”