BLOOMINGTON – The Indiana-Purdue rivalry always brings out passion in both teams and both fanbases.
But the first meeting this season between the in-state teams at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall (2 p.m., ESPN) on Saturday will take on added significance.
Both teams are desperate for a win to stay in contention for an NCAA Tournament berth in the rough-and-tumble Big Ten, where no games come easy. Indiana (15-7, 5-6 Big Ten) is looking to snap a three-game losing streak and protect its homecourt. IU is 12-2 at home and 4-1 at home in conference games.
“Both teams have a lot to play for here down the stretch with their own resumes and trying to build towards the tournament,” Indiana coach Archie Miller said. “To me, every game from this point forward, regardless whether it’s Purdue at home or you play Iowa at home, it doesn’t really matter. There’s so much on the line for every team in the league in terms of trying to finish this climb that’s been very difficult to navigate.”
Indiana has had a week to regroup since a lethargic outing in a 68-59 loss at Ohio State, a game in which the Hoosiers generated no second-chance points, were outrebounded 31-24 and outscored 26-20 in the paint.
“The game is going to come down in February in our league in general, (to) who’s rebounding the ball effectively home and away,” Miller said. “We didn’t effectively rebound the ball in our last two games on the road, and we got crushed. When we effectively rebound the ball on both ends of the floor, we have a chance to be a pretty good team.”
Purdue (13-10, 6-6) is coming off its best offensive game, draining 19 3-pointers in a 104-68 win over No. 17 Iowa on Wednesday at Mackey Arena. The Boilermakers haven’t been as productive offensively on the road, averaging 57.5 points in six Big Ten road games. Purdue has shot just 26.1 percent from 3-point range on the road, compared to 41.4 percent at home.
Miller noted many of Purdue’s early 3-pointers against Iowa came off offensive rebounds, which got the Boilermakers into a good shooting rhythm.
“They made a ton of shots early off of great effort on the boards, and I think that’s the thing that probably goes the most underrated when you start talking about Purdue is how good they are on the boards right now,” Miller said. “They’re killing teams on the offensive glass, and they’re generating 3-point shots.”
The key matchups will come inside, as IU’s starting frontcourt of 6-foot-11 center Joey Brunk, 6-9 freshman forward Trayce Jackson-Davis and 6-7 forward Justin Smith will deal with Purdue’s frontcourt rotation that includes 7-3 center Matt Haarms, 6-9 forward Trevion Williams, 6-8 forward Evan Boudreaux and 6-9 forward Aaron Wheeler.
“They have a nice four-man rotation in there,” Miller said. “If they need to go small, they’ll actually even put Nojel Eastern in there who’s as physical as any player in our league.”
For Brunk, a transfer from Butler, it will be a first chance to take part in a Purdue-Indiana rivalry he grew up watching as a kid outside Indianapolis.
“The IU-Purdue game always carries a little more weight,” Brunk said. “I remember watching it growing up, and you always made sure you got home in time from practice to be able to watch. It’s really, really special to get the chance to play in it. I know it’s going to be one of those that you’re happy that you got to say you were a part of when you look back down the road.”
Brunk, who said he’s feeling better after dealing with an illness last week, feels like the Hoosiers are prepared for a physical challenge inside.
“It’s been a point of emphasis this week,” Brunk said. “We have a lot of good guys inside, and it’s going to be really, really important for us. In the Big Ten, you’re playing somebody night in, night out that’s a really, really good player inside.”
It should be another charged atmosphere inside Assembly Hall, as IU plans to honor the 40th anniversary of the 1980 Big Ten championship team at halftime. Former long-time Purdue coach Gene Keady plans to attend the game, and there are rumblings former IU coach Bob Knight could be there with him. Both Keady and Knight are scheduled to appear at an Indiana Pacers game later Saturday night.
“We know every game in the Big Ten matters, and it’s going to be as tough as the next one,” IU senior guard Devonte Green said. “But it is a rivalry game. We know our fans are going to be in here and bring the atmosphere that we need. Again, this win will be important for our future, but also just important to us as a team just because of who it is.”
Miller said sophomore forward Race Thompson has made progress this week, taking part in non-contact and halfcourt drills in practice, and could return for Saturday’s game against Purdue.
“If all goes well (Friday) and (Saturday), maybe he’ll have a chance to play,” Miller said. “I don’t know how effective he’ll be. But Race has been a big part of our team. If you look at per-minute-played of any player on our team, per minute he rebounds the ball better than anybody on our team, and then when you add in that he’s smart and he knows his role, offensively, although maybe not huge scoring numbers but creates action for people, screens, offensive rebounds, good passer.”