It’s a clash of two titans with more up for grabs than just a “W” –– to the victor also goes the right to control its own destiny for the Big Ten conference title.
When No. 14 Purdue (18-3, 7-1 Big Ten) and No. 7 Penn State (17-3, 7-1 Big Ten) lace up at 7 tonight in the Bryce Jordan Center, it’s going to mark the first time this season that two top 15 teams in the conference have squared off. Ultimately it has big game implications, but now has a greater magnitude after an upset late last week.
Following the Lions’ 63-61 loss to unranked Wisconsin on Thursday, the conference had a bit of a shakeup. Before the loss, the Lions were the only undefeated team that remained in the conference and occupied sole possession of first place, but after suffering their first blunder in the conference, they now are tied with the Boilermakers.
Since these two squads only meet once this season, a win is pivotal for both teams and would allow them to separate themselves from the rest of the field.
However, getting a win tonight is much easier said than done.
The Lions have had tremendous success at home this season and are a perfect 10-0 on their home floor, defeating opponents by an average of 26 points per game. Two of those times –– both in conference play –– the Lions have won by five points or less.
For a team that only allows opponents to score 61 PPG, shutting down the duo of Lion guards Alex Bentley and Maggie Lucas will be important if the Boilermakers want to hand the Lions their first home loss of the season. The two average nearly 33 PPG and allowing them to get into a rhythm could damper the Boilermakers’ hopes of stealing one on the road.
“We’ve got to rotate, Alex Bently and Maggie Lucas are keys,” Boilermaker head coach Sharon Versyp told PurdueSports.com. “You just don’t want them getting into the 20’s if you can limit them.”
The Boilermakers, though, are no pushover on the road and have compiled a 7-2 road record, finding a way to churn out wins. Four times this season they have played a game in conference that has gone at least one overtime period –– three of which have been on the road –– and they are a perfect 4-0 when the game does not end in regulation.
Those records, combined with their toughness, have Lions’ head coach Coquese Washington expecting a battle from the opening tip.
“I think that’s the mark of a tough team that can play all those overtime games and find ways to win, and close those games out,” Washington said. “I think they’re a physically tough team and they seem to be a pretty mentally tough team as well.”