WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP)—Northwestern believes the NCAA tournament selection committee should at least consider the Wildcats after they beat No. 19 Purdue 64-61 on Wednesday night.
Kevin Coble scored 16 points for Northwestern in its third victory over a ranked team this season as the Wildcats beat Minnesota on Jan. 18, then won at Michigan State on Jan. 21. The Wildcats feel they should be considered for an NCAA tournament at-large berth, which would be their first ever.
“Definitely,” Northwestern forward Luka Mirkovic said. “Why not?”
The Wildcats are on a three-game winning streak, and believe they are playing like a tournament-caliber team.
“We feel that we are,” Coble said. “I think you see glimpses of us. If you could take those glimpses and make that a consistent thing where it’s night in and night out, then I really don’t think there’s any question. We have to continue to get better.”
Michael Thompson and Craig Moore both scored 12 points for the Wildcats (17-11, 8-9 Big Ten), who ruined Senior Night for the Boilermakers and ended their seven-game home winning streak.
Purdue led 44-34 5 minutes into the second half, then made one field goal over the next 11 minutes.
“We relaxed,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “We relaxed in that stretch and we didn’t show poise.”
Northwestern beat Purdue by playing the Boilermakers’ style—using physical, tough defense and efficient offense.
“Coach just told us we had to match their intensity,” Moore said. “Especially at their home court, with their fans, they’re going to try to beat you up and gain an edge. We just tried to minimize that edge as much as possible. I think we ended up gaining our own edge.”
Northwestern shot 49 percent from the field and a team that normally struggles on the boards outrebounded the Boilermakers 30-29.
“We didn’t feel like they could guard our offense,” Moore said. “We got a lot of points with five seconds left on the shot clock, less than that. And offensive rebounds were huge for us.”
Keaton Grant and E’Twaun Moore both scored 14 points and JaJuan Johnson added 11 for the Boilermakers (22-8, 11-6), who had won five of six games overall, and had won five straight over Northwestern.
Purdue overcame a 14-point deficit to beat Northwestern 63-61 in Evanston, Ill. on Jan. 15. Northwestern didn’t worry about that in the final minutes on Wednesday.
“You can’t think like that,” Moore said. “We had the lead, that means it’s our game.”
The Boilermakers were eliminated in the Big Ten race on Tuesday, when Michigan State beat Indiana. Painter said he wasn’t sure if that was a factor in the way the Boilermakers closed the game.
Northwestern led 20-17 in the first half before Purdue went on a 12-5 run, including two 3-pointers by Grant. The Boilermakers led 35-28 at halftime. Northwestern shot 50 percent in the first half, but Purdue countered by making four 4-pointers and outscoring the Wildcats 9-0 from the free-throw line.
Purdue struggled offensively early in the second half, allowing Northwestern to rally. Coble tied the game at 47 on a fast-break layup, then Northwestern took its first lead of the half on a layup by Jeff Ryan.
Sterling Williams followed with a layup to give the Wildcats a 51-47 lead. Williams missed the free throw on the three-point play, but the ball went out of bounds off a Purdue player, and Williams hit a jumper on the possession to make it 53-47. After Purdue failed to score, Northwestern’s Thompson drained a 3-pointer to give Northwestern a nine-point lead with 5:34 to play.
Grant made a 3-pointer to cut Northwestern’s lead to 56-52 with just over 2 minutes remaining.
Purdue cut the deficit to two points and had several chances to get closer, but missed three free throws in the final 1:04.
Northwestern led 62-56 in the closing seconds, and the Boilermakers put Thompson at the line with 6.7 seconds to play and he made both.
The Wildcats are excited about what they could accomplish heading into the Big Ten tournament.
“Everybody’s just stuck with it,” Coble said. “Everybody could have folded or given up and thought we were never going to get there. Finally, we’re starting to see some fruits from our work.”
Painter believes that Northwestern deserves to keep playing after the conference tournament.
“Northwestern is a postseason team, whether it be the NCAA or the NIT,” he said.