Purdue rode Robbie Hummel to its first Big Ten tournament title a year ago. To repeat, the Boilermakers will have to get it done without the tournament’s reigning most outstanding player.
Still adjusting to life without Hummel, the sixth-ranked and second-seeded Boilermakers begin their title defense in Friday’s quarterfinals, where they’ll meet a Northwestern team that beat them before the star forward got hurt.
Hummel averaged 16.0 points and 9.3 rebounds while shooting 52.9 percent (9 for 17) from 3-point range to lead Purdue to its first conference tournament title last season.
Hummel, though, won’t be around for this year’s event. The junior forward, who’s second on the team with 15.7 points and 6.9 rebounds per game this season, tore the ACL in his right knee in a win over Minnesota on Feb. 24 and underwent season-ending surgery Monday.
Without him, Purdue (26-4) delivered its worst offensive performance of the season in a 53-44 loss to then-No. 14 Michigan State before bouncing back with two solid outings in wins over Indiana and Penn State. Coach Matt Painter hopes the progress his team showed over the final week of conference play is a sign of things to come in postseason play.
“Guys could have folded,” Painter said. “You lose one of those major pieces and it’s tough. … You can’t feel sorry for yourself.”
The Boilermakers know they still have work to do to be fully comfortable with their rotation without Hummel, and the Big Ten tournament is their last chance to work out the kinks before they head into the NCAA tournament. Success without Hummel could also help Purdue hold on to a high seed for the NCAAs.
“Especially a lot of teams now are at full strength or close to it, so we have a good showing against them maybe it will show the (NCAA) selection committee that we are deserving of a higher seed even without Rob,” center JaJuan Johnson said.
Hummel played Jan. 16 against Northwestern, but the Wildcats (20-12) pulled out a 72-64 home victory over the then-No. 6 Boilermakers behind 20 points from Michael Thompson.
E’Twaun Moore led Purdue with 24 points and Hummel added 20, but the rest of the Boilermakers totaled 20 points and shot 22.6 percent (7 for 31) in the defeat.
Thompson helped keep seventh-seeded Northwestern alive in this tournament by scoring 11 of his 16 points during a late run Thursday, leading the Wildcats past Indiana 73-58 in the first round. Northwestern, which lost its regular-season finale at Indiana in overtime, outscored the Hoosiers 46-28 in the second half to take the rematch and reach 20 wins for the first time in school history.
It was the Wildcats’ first Big Ten tourney win since March 10, 2005.
“We have a great team and we’ve been working hard and playing well today,” Thompson said. “But we’re excited for what we’ve done so far, but we’re still working hard and trying to add more wins to it.”
The Wildcats will likely need to win the conference tournament to get to the NCAA tournament for the first time, but Thompson says they’re not looking past the Boilermakers.
“We know that Purdue is a good team. We were successful in beating them this year,” Thompson said. “I think in order to be successful against them tomorrow, we have to come out ready to play and handle their defense and have defensive pressure.”
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