Purdue will need help if it is going to win a Big Ten regular-season title, but it certainly is doing its part to make the race competitive.
The eighth-ranked Boilermakers will try to win their sixth straight Sunday when they visit Michigan State, which has regained some confidence since the teams last met.
Purdue (23-5, 12-3) is looking to stay no worse than one game in the conference behind No. 2 Ohio State, which will take on Indiana later Sunday. A loss by the Boilermakers and a win by the Buckeyes would give Ohio State at least a share of the Big Ten title.
“There’s obviously a lot riding on this game,” Purdue guard Ryne Smith. “Should be a great atmosphere and a big test.”
After wins over No. 12 Wisconsin and the Buckeyes, Purdue avoided a letdown on the road, holding Indiana to 38 percent shooting. JaJuan Johnson had 20 points and nine rebounds while E’Twaun Moore, coming off a 38-point performance against Ohio State, added 17 points, six rebounds and five assists.
The Boilermakers have been particularly impressive on defense recently, limiting opponents to 39.2 percent from the field the last five games.
“I think our guys really understand what we’re playing for,” said Johnson, averaging 20.4 points and 7.8 rebounds. “It’s not just against IU, we’re playing to win a Big Ten championship, and I think we all realize that each game is really important.”
After defeating the Spartans 86-76 at Mackey Arena on Jan. 22, the Boilermakers are looking to sweep the regular-season series against Michigan State for the first time since 1997. Last season’s win at the Breslin Center was Purdue’s first since 1998.
Moore, who is averaging 23.8 points the past five games, scored 25 in his last visit to the Breslin Center and had 26 in last month’s win over Michigan State.
While the Boilermakers are peaking at the right time, the Spartans (16-11, 8-6) appear to be getting back on track as they try to boost their NCAA tournament resume. They are trying to win three straight for the first time since opening the season 3-0 after posting a 53-48 win at Minnesota on Tuesday.
Kalin Lucas scored 18 points in the low-scoring affair that saw the Spartans shoot 36.7 percent and the Golden Gophers 37.5 percent. Lucas was the only Michigan State player to score in double figures with 18.
“It builds our confidence more,” said Lucas, averaging 21.4 points the last eight games. “This was definitely a great road win.”
A victory over a ranked opponent would be a big lift for the Spartans, who have failed to live up to early-season expectations. However, they’ve improved recently, winning three of four while allowing fewer than 60 points in each of those victories.
Michigan State will play its next two at home, where it is 11-2 and has won three in a row. However, it will need Lucas to play better against the Boilermakers after the Spartans’ leading scorer was held to nine on 3-of-16 shooting in the teams’ earlier meeting.