Purdue bounces back with vengeance (Notebook)

Jim Martinho

If the Big Ten gave out midseason awards, Purdue’s Gene Keady almost certainly would capture Coach of the (half) Year honors.

As the midpoint of the conference season approaches, Keady’s Boilermakers (14-4, 6-1 Big Ten) have shocked the conference by winning six of their first seven Big Ten games — including wins over preseason favorites Michigan State and Indiana.

Keady also picked up his 250th career victory with a 70-65 home win over Ohio State on Jan. 29, joining former Indiana legend Bob Knight as the only Big Ten coaches to reach the milestone.

After suffering through two of his most arduous seasons, as Purdue posted a combined conference record of 11-22 the past two seasons, Keady said this year’s Boilermakers have gained from the experience.

“Like anytime in life when you have adversity, if you don’t learn from it and get better from it, you’re not very bright,” Keady said.

Keady said Purdue’s four freshman have been better than anticipated and fit into his system well. But most of the Boilermakers’ success can be attributed to the play of two upperclassmen — senior Willie Deane and junior Kenneth Lowe.

Deane has returned to last season’s form, when he led the Big Ten in scoring. He’s currently averaging 17.8 points. But Lowe — who missed last season after undergoing shoulder surgery — has sparked the Boilermakers with his scoring, intense defense and leadership.

“I think the difference is Lowe,” Iowa coach Steve Alford said. “I think if he was around last year they would have been doing similar things as this season because he’s that good. He’s one of those guys who can score 20 points or seven points and still beat you.”

But while Lowe’s return and an influx of new talent have invigorated the Boilermakers, Keady said veterans who have been around for the past two years just grew sick of losing.

“From getting their fannies kicked the last two years, they don’t want it to happen anymore,” Keady said.

SCHEDULING CHANGE: Several Big Ten coaches expressed their displeasure with recent scheduling quirks that have forced teams to play three straight games away from their home courts.

Northwestern and Michigan State recently completed three-game stretches on the road — both losing all three — and Ohio State lost two of three consecutive road excursions. Iowa begins its first of two such stretches tonight at Penn State.

“I’ve been fighting that baby for 10 years,” Keady said of the road tests. “I’ve been telling them at every Big Ten meeting, it’s not right to play three road games in a row. Nobody’s listening.”

The league blames scheduling conflicts on television and new multi-purpose arenas. Alford, whose Hawkeyes play six of their next nine games away from home, said too many midweek road games can also take a toll on players’ academics.

“As coaches we need to do a better job in spring meetings and go in more organized,” Alford said. “We definitely want to see changes.”