WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP)—Purdue coach Gene Keady had seen this before.
He sat on the sideline and watched his 23rd-ranked Boilermakers let a 15-point halftime lead over Minnesota slip away. Similar instances had happened against SMU and Colorado State, both resulting in losses.
This time, however, Brett Buscher made sure it didn’t happen again.
Buscher scored six of his 10 points during a critical stretch of the second half to lift Purdue to a 72-65 victory over Minnesota on Wednesday night.
“I’m proud of the kids, the way they battled. It showed a lot of character,” Keady said. “It would have been very easy for them to fold up, but they hung in there.”
After Minnesota (8-8, 0-4 Big Ten) rallied to tie the game at 58 with 6:19 to play, Buscher responded with two free throws, a jump hook and a layup that put Purdue (13-4, 3-1) back in control.
The rare offensive spurt from the senior gave Purdue a 64-60 lead with 4:43 to play. The Gophers never got closer, losing their third game in a row.
When asked if he was surprised by Buscher’s play, Keady replied, “No, I’m not surprised by that at all. He also did a good job defensively on (Kris) Humphries.”
David Teague scored 18 points, including four 3-pointers, and Kenneth Lowe added 17 for Purdue, which won its third straight.
Humphries led the Gophers with 19 points and 14 rebounds and Stan Gaines added 14 points.
Minnesota just couldn’t keep up with the hot-shooting Boilermakers, who hit a season-best 53.5 percent. The Gophers shot just 39 percent.
Gophers coach Dan Monson used a zone defense for most of the first half, hoping to capitalize on the Purdue guards who have struggled from the outside this season.
The plan backfired, as Teague and Lowe torched the Gophers in the first half, outscoring them 30-28.
Teague had 16 points, including four 3-pointers, and Lowe added 14 in the first half to key the fast start.
“We wanted to make them a perimeter team and, unfortunately, we did,” Monson said. “Purdue just hit everything in sight.”
As upsetting as that was, Monson was encouraged by the way his struggling team responded.
“Their competitiveness was very inspiring,” Monson said. “Today was a step in the right direction.”
Purdue grabbed the momentum in the second half when Austin Parkinson stole a loose ball and streaked for a layup that gave the Boilermakers a 50-41 lead. Monson was then issued a technical foul for arguing that Parkinson held Adam Boone on the play, and Lowe’s free throw gave Purdue a 51-41 lead.
The Gophers came right back. Boone hit consecutive 3-pointers to bring the Gophers within 58-56 with 7:30 to play and Maurice Hargrow tied the game with two free throws just over a minute later.
Hargrow’s free throws capped an 11-0 run that erased a 43-28 halftime deficit for Minnesota.
“To continue to battle and get it tied and get yourself opportunities is encouraging,” Monson said. “Of course now we have to start getting some wins out of those opportunities.”
Humphries played most of the game with his left eye nearly swollen shut after he was elbowed by Buscher midway through the first half.
Humphries and Buscher tangled under the Purdue basket when Buscher caught him with an inadvertent elbow as Humphries fell to the floor.
The injury took its toll, as Humphries went to the bench periodically throughout the final 30 minutes ice his eye. He was 5-of-15 from the field and 8-for-8 from the free throw line.
“It’s bad,” Monson said of the injury, adding that Humphries will have precautionary X-rays taken when the team gets back to Minnesota. “He’s drawing a lot of attention and a lot of contact.”
Humphries scored 13 of his 19 points in the second half and Boone had 12 points, including going 3-of-5 from 3-point range, as Minnesota made its comeback.
But the Gophers just couldn’t come up with defensive stops and had no answer for Buscher down the stretch.
“Brett has been accepting of the challenge,” Lowe said. “He’s probably the best all-around athlete on our team.”