Penn State (18-5, 8-4 Big Ten) is ranked No. 13 in the AP Poll and is No. 19 in the NET Rankings. The last time they won in West Lafayette was during the 2005-06 season when sophomore Geary Claxton (pictured above) was leading the way, along with a pair of promising young freshmen in Jamelle Cornley and David Jackson.
Nothing comes easy in the Big Ten this year, and a 14-10 Purdue team is much better than their record indicates, especially when playing at home. If Penn State is to break the 14-year winless streak and a nine-game losing streak overall at Mackey Arena, they will have to earn it.
Purdue is one of the best defensive teams in the country, and as always under Matt Painter, they play solid team defense from start to finish. Lately, their shooting has improved and an offense that had been absent for stretches in the first half of the season has found some rhythm. The improvements on the offensive end were on full display in a 104-68 outburst at home versus Iowa last week in which the Boilermakers shot 19-34 from three-point range.
Seven players hit from downtown in that game for Purdue, including forwards Matt Haarms (1-1) and Evan Boudreaux (4-6). Haarms is much more effective around the rim, averaging 9.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, and two blocks per game. The Iowa win was the high-water mark for the grad-transfer Boudreaux to this point. Boudreaux is shooting 32 percent from the perimeter this year, but has been more successful in the past month of play.
Inside the arc, Trevion Williams has emerged as the primary option for the Boilermakers to score points. The sophomore is a versatile scorer averaging 11 points per game, and backs it up with 7.3 rebounds per game.
Eric Hunter Jr. and Sasha Stefanovic are Purdue’s primary threats from deep. Hunter Jr. has been solid running the point, but will be challenged by Jamari Wheeler. Stefanovic is a volume three-point shooter, and Penn State would be wise to shadow him closely around the perimeter all night.
Nojel Eastern, one of the better defenders in the league, will likely draw Lamar Stevens throughout the game. This will be the match-up to watch, especially if Myreon Jones remains out due to illness.
What To Watch
Rebounding - Purdue is one of the best rebounding teams in the conference, and Penn State’s struggles in conference play have come when they lose the rebounding margin by a substantial amount. During the 6-game win streak the Nittany Lions have mostly had a positive margin, and kept the negatives to a minimum (-2 at MSU). If they can keep it close again, they’re in good shape.
Depth - Myreon Jones’ status remains uncertain heading into game day. Purdue is one of the deepest rosters in the conference, and Penn State could feel it late in the game if Jones is out of the lineup. The Lions will need their bench to continue their strong play to hang with the Boilermakers for 40.
Tempo and Shot Creation - Penn State’s offense is most-effective when they’re playing fast, often sparked by turnovers. Purdue takes care of the ball and play stout defense. Will Penn State dictate the pace, and if not, can they create quality looks out of a half-court set?
This game has concerned me for a while, and the thrashing of Iowa last week at Mackey didn’t help. Purdue has been outstanding at home in several key games throughout the season. Still, the way Penn State has stepped up defensively over the past month of play has inspired confidence in the team. Suddenly they’re playing Pat Chambers’ style of relentless defense, AND scoring the ball consistently. 40 minutes of their best results in a win. Purdue proved they can go on the road and win at Indiana over the weekend, Penn State goes into West Lafayette and proves the Boilermakers can lose at home.
Penn State 73, Purdue 70.