After losing two games early in season, Purdue has taken a road different from Maryland's

The storyline for Purdue going into its first meeting with Maryland this season in the Big Ten men’s basketball opener at Xfinity Center was pretty similar to the Terps’.

As Maryland was trying to replace two-time All-Big Ten point guard Melo Trimble, the Boilermakers were hoping to fill the void left by power forward Caleb Swanigan, the league’s Player of the Year last season.


Both teams had already lost a couple of games, though Purdue had appeared to refocus after successive losses to Tennessee and Western Kentucky by beating then-No. 2 Arizona and then-No. 17 Louisville.

When the Terps and the now No. 3 Boilermakers meet again Wednesday night at Mackey Arena, it is almost as if they have gone from living in parallel universes to being in different worlds.


Purdue (21-2, 10-0) has won 17 straight games — including an 80-75 win over the Terps on Dec. 1 — and is being considered a legitimate Final Four contender. Maryland (15-8, 4-6) has lost four of five and is barely in the conversation for the NCAA tournament.

For the Boilermakers, it all began with the back-to-back losses at the Battle4Atlantic tournament in the Bahamas.

“As a team, we all had to check our own egos for a moment there, just really think about what we needed to do for us to win," senior forward Vince Edwards said in a telephone interview Monday.

“If we’re going to be successful, everybody’s got to sacrifice something. That’s what we all figured out. I think that takes a lot of maturity and experience.”

With Edwards and three other seniors surrounding emerging star sophomore point guard Carsen Edwards, the Boilermakers have become one of college basketball’s most dominant teams.

Matt Painter, who is in 13th season as Purdue’s head coach after serving a one-year apprenticeship at his alma mater under Gene Keady, thought too much was made of Swanigan’s departure.

“I think people got consumed with the one player that we lost, who was the best player in the league,” Painter told reporters last week in West Lafayette, Ind. “But we had a lot of good players coming back. Six of our top seven scorers returned. Our guys have been through it. We’ve been on the road. We’ve played.”

Said Vince Edwards, “I don’t think we’re as surprised as we’ve caught everyone else in the country off-guard. We always felt like we had the guys to be successful. It was just a matter of fact of putting it together. It made us all step up more and contribute more and made everyone elevate their game and push themselves even harder.”

Whether it's a matter of minutes or even a few seconds, the Terps are unable to sustain playing at a high level.

After losing Swanigan, who was a first-round draft pick of the Portland Trail Blazers, the Boilermakers have changed the formula only a little bit, with Carsen Edwards and senior center Isaac Haas being more of a focal point than they were a year ago.

Because of the way they space the floor, it has made it impossible to stop Edwards from penetrating and the almost immovable, 7-2, 290-pound Haas from getting near the basket. Haas, who is shooting a career-high 62.4 percent from the field, has also improved his free-throw shooting from 54.8 percent as a freshman to 78.2 percent as a senior.

Purdue, which finished tied for seventh in the country in 3-point shooting last season (40.6), ranks second (43.6) this season, with seniors P.J. Thompson (50.6), Dakota Mathias (46.2) and Vince Edwards (44.8) among the top seven 3-point shooters in the Big Ten.

“I think what’s really the key to it and that people are missing out on is our improvement in our 3-point shooting,” Vince Edwards said. “We were a good 3-point shooting team last year, but our percentage is up this year. … I feel shooting is just contagious. It’s always good to see the ball go in, whether it’s you or your teammate.”


UCLA, Purdue and DePaul are also under consideration.

Yet there is more to these Boilermakers than just a bunch of 3-point shooters. Purdue leads the Big Ten in scoring, scoring margin and assist-to-turnover ratio, and is ranked in the top three in scoring defense, free-throw percentage, field-goal percentage, blocked shots and assists.

What can't be understated in this age of national title contenders having at least one, if not more, one-and-done players is that the Boilermakers surround Carsen Edwards with seniors. It has kept the sometimes shot-happy sophomore from getting out of control.

“It definitely helps when you have guys that have been through it for almost four years,” Vince Edwards said. “It’s easier to help the younger guys and help them see the bigger picture. When you have guys that are the same age or younger, it’s hard to listen. He trusts us as teammates, and I think that’s what makes us successful.”

Purdue is made up of mostly of players who were afterthoughts coming out of high school. Carsen Edwards, Vince Edwards and Haas were low 4-star recruits ranked in the high 80s by ESPN, while Mathias was a 3-star not in the top 100 and Thompson was a 2-star.

“We always thought we were really good basketball players. We knew we could play at this level, and succeed, it was just a matter of finding our niche at the next level," Thompson said in a telephone interview Monday. “I feel we’ve got better each and every year.”

The Boilermakers, who in the preseason were picked to finish behind Michigan State and Minnesota,lead No. 17 Ohio State by one game and the No. 5 Spartans by two. Purdue hosts the Buckeyes on Feb. 7 before going to East Lansing three days later.

Purdue is trying to become the first Big Ten team to win the regular season title outright in back-to-back seasons since Illinois in 2003-04 and 2004-05, and add to its league-best total of 23 regular-season titles (either shared or outright).

What has also motivated the Boilermakers this season is the way last season ended.

After winning the Big Ten regular-season title, Purdue was upset by eventual champion Michigan in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament at Verizon Center in Washington.

Then, as a No. 4 seed, the Boilermakers were demolished by top seed Kansas, 93-66, in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament after getting outscored 40-12 in the last 14½ minutes.

“I just think it helped us realize — first of all we weren’t the most athletic team and you could definitely see that in that game last year — that we had to come out and do every little thing that we needed to win,” Vince Edwards said.

For Painter, he won’t let his team get too far away of the feeling it had after losing to the Jayhawks last season, or its two defeats this season.

“From a coaching standpoint, you have to remember how you got beat in those games and keep reminding them,” Painter said last week. “These things can occur again. You’ve got to take care of the ball. You’ve got to rebound the ball. More than anything you’ve got to compete. ... There’s a lot of things out there, but as a coach, it’s your job to keep everything grounded.”

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