Purdue thwarts Illinois comeback in top 10 matchup

Jan. 5—WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Illinois was gifted an incredible opportunity in the first half of Friday night's game at Purdue.

The Illini said all the right things heading into the game. That a top 10 matchup — a shot at the No. 1 team in the country — was just another game on the Big Ten schedule.

Then the game started and the moment seemed too big. To the tune of a 16-point deficit.

Then opportunity knocked. Zach Edey on the bench with two fouls robbed Purdue of its All-American center. Its rebounding machine. Its defensive presence in the paint that helped bottle up the Illini before he was recalled for good in the first half.

Illinois winnowed its deficit all the way to three points. Then watched the Boilermakers methodically build their lead to 15 at halftime. A deficit that had the Illini in perpetual catch-up mode in the second half. And a deficit ultimately just too large to overcome in an 83-78 Purdue victory.

An opportunity lost.

Marcus Domask and Co. — namely Luke Goode and Quincy Guerrier — did enough to at least turn Friday's game into a competitive finish. It wasn't enough, though, as Illinois couldn't capitalize on its chance to flip the Big Ten on its head by handing Purdue a rare home loss.

Done in by a combination of a poor start, a delay in adjusting to a lineup that could work with Edey on the court and not enough success when the 7-foot-4 center wasn't in the game.

"They kicked our butt during that stretch," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. "We got it cut, but when the best player in the country is not in the game, you better make hay. We did for a little bit, but you have to sustain that. We knew when he's not in the game, defensively, we felt like we could score. Just being real. We felt like we could score, and we did."

The slow start was a product of Purdue sending Edey against Illinois guard Ty Rodgers. A defensive assignment that allowed the Boilermakers' big man to camp out in the lane. Redirect dribble drives. Snag several rebounds.

It threw Illinois off kilter offensively at the start of the game.

"We expected it," Underwood said. "We got good looks. We got some pretty good looks in there. They did the same thing in here last year. Nothing more than that. It's my fault. I didn't spend enough time on it in practice. We thought if we could get stops that would pose some problems for them in transition, but we just got out of rhythm and it was hard getting a stop. Then they were punishing us on the glass."

Rebounding was a difference maker. Purdue outrebounded Illinois 43-28 and turned 18 offensive rebounds into 21 second-chance points.

"It's on us," Domask said. "We allowed them to be more physical than us. It's a quick fix. ... We've shown that we're a great rebounding team before. We just didn't execute to the highest level possible for us."

Illinois cut its deficit to three points again in the second half — with just 13 seconds to play — on a made three-pointer by Coleman Hawkins. Two Braden Smith free throws with 9 seconds on the clock sealed the Purdue victory, keeping Illinois from being the second Big Ten team from the state of Illinois to knock off the top-ranked Boilermakers.

Domask scored 20 of his game-high 26 points in the second half. Luke Goode had 11 of his season-high 16 in the same stretch. Enough for Illinois to turn Friday night's top 10 showdown into a one-possession game in the final minute. Just not quite enough to complete the comeback.

"I would like to say we didn't lose 18 points there, but I think we just have a lot of experience on the team," Purdue sophomore forward Trey Kaufman-Renn said. "Everybody that's played so long and in so many big games. We're kind of thankful that we've scheduled it like that to play so many big teams. It's prepared us for moments like this."