Men’s Basketball: No. 5 Purdue’s big men too much for Northwestern in 70-64 defeat


Joanne Haner/The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern players and coaches react to a previous play. Northwestern was unable to pull out the victory against No. 5 Purdue Wednesday, dropping the contest 70-64.

Lawrence Price, Assistant Sports Editor

Somehow and someway, Purdue head coach Matt Painter and the Boilermakers basketball program seem to always have a lineup including a big man.

This time around, the group contains seven-foot-four center Zach Edey, the team’s second-best scorer and leading rebounder. 

This stature difference proved to be a problem for Wildcats’ (12-12, 5-10 Big Ten) senior forward Pete Nance and redshirt junior center Ryan Young, who were assigned guarding duties. The matchup’s outcome included Edey finishing with a team-high in points, as the Boilermakers (23-4, 12-4 Big Ten) defeated the Cats, 70-64. 

“Tonight was just a hard-fought physical battle,” coach Chris Collins said. “You got a two-headed monster inside that those guys cannot really be guarded one on one.”

Although Edey’s height made him stick out like a sore thumb, his presence was truly felt in the paint early on. After missing the game’s first shot attempt following junior guard Boo Buie’s turnover, Edey got his team on the board through a fast-break dunk after junior forward Robbie Beran’s stolen pass. 

Naturally, Edey will have the mismatch benefit on any defender due to his height advantage, but this was a major case versus the Cats, as both Young and Nance stand six inches shorter at six-foot-ten. With this, on top of Purdue backup big man Trevion Williams trickling into foul trouble early in the first half, Edey made use of the opportunity. This was showcased late in the half when the center caught a pass from Isaiah Thompson at the left low block, pump faked through a Nance-Young double team and scored the basket.

By the end of the first of the two 20-minute periods, Edey led the team with 12 points to go, with six rebounds and one block. In comparison to this, Nance and Young combined for 10 points on five-for-nine shooting, collecting three boards in total. 

“(Edey’s) definitely a really tough player to guard,” Collins said. “When you try to throw traps at him and things like that, he’s a difference maker for sure.”

The Cats were able to force Edey and Williams to turn the ball over seven times. However, the duo’s paint presence was enough to open up multiple shot-making opportunities for its perimeter players.

Purdue knocked down 50% of its threes in the second half, four coming off of a Williams dish. A major reason behind this was NU’s decision to crash or double-team him or Edey when either received the ball in the paint. Even though the Wildcats limited the two to six points total in the second half, their game plan left a Boilermaker open from deep, and the opposing team made them pay.

“You’ve got to pick your poison,” Collins said. “If you’re all over their three-point shooters, then now you’re playing Edey and Trevion one-on-one.”

Edey and Williams not only affected how their offense functioned, but also how NU’s did as well. Out of the Cats 64 points, by the end of the game, the team conjured up 18 points inside the paint and shot 29 percent from deep. Of course, the deep shots don’t necessarily pertain to Purdue’s big men; the team’s shooting struggles, including their inability to find success in the paint, all tie to Edey and Williams lurking in the trenches.

NU’s big men were dealt a bad hand having to face the combo of Edey and Williams three days after competing against Illinois seven-footer Kofi Cockburn, the conference’s leader in rebounds per game.  Although the team wasn’t successful in achieving the victory nor shutting down Edey and Cockburn, Beran attested that competing against opponents back-to-back was better than at different times throughout the schedule — and possibly a way for the team to grow.

“There were some similarities that we took from game to game,” Beran said. “Obviously, there’s still work to do, but (we’re) just trying to get better every day.”

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