WEST LAFAYETTE — It isn't where Purdue envisioned playing its postseason basketball at the beginning of the year. Not in front of 3,046 fans in Mackey Arena, not even ¼ its capacity, and definitely not in the College Basketball Invitational.
The Boilermakers were there, though, playing Western Illinois. At least, eventually playing the Leathernecks.
Purdue came out flat to open the game as it fell behind 25-16 nine minutes into the game. The Boilermakers eventually showed up as they used a 10-2 run to close the first half and hot three-point shooting in the second half to win 81-67. The win advanced Purdue to the quarterfinals of the CBI where it plays Santa Clara at 7 p.m. Monday in Mackey Arena.
Purdue head coach Matt Painter said it was disappointing for the team to be playing in the CBI after making it to six straight NCAA tournaments but he said his team showed maturity in how it handled the situation.
At first, the maturity was absent as Western Illinois routinely forced Purdue into defensive mistakes early in the game. This came without the Leathernecks playing with their two top scorers.
Western Illinois came out strong, hitting 12 of its first 18 shots to take the early lead and forced Purdue into five turnovers in the first ten minutes of the game.
“I think what our guys don't understand is there are good players everywhere … but some of our guys, it's a byproduct of youth, they don't look at it that way even after 30-some odd games,” Painter said.
Purdue responded to the slow start at the end of the first half. Purdue forced seven Western Illinois turnovers in the final 10 minutes to get out in transition for easy baskets. This included six late points from Ronnie Johnson and Purdue turned the nine-point deficit into a three-point halftime lead.
“I think we are a good team pushing the ball in transition so that's where we get a lot of our points, and they wasn't really getting back on defense so we just took advantage of it and took the lead,” Johnson said.
In the second half, Purdue's long-range shooting showed up. After hitting one of four threes in the first half, Purdue hit six of seven in the second half. DJ Byrd hit all three of his shot attempts from long range, Raphael Davis added two of his own and Donnie Hale even hit one late in the half.
“I thought we played about as well as we could, but as I said going in, if Purdue makes shots we are going to have a hard time,” Western Illinois head coach Jim Molinari said. “When you make six of seven threes in the second half, give them all the credit, they made shots, they got energized and made some threes, and I thought Purdue played well.”
It also helped Purdue to have contributions across the board, especially from its seniors pushing to keep their careers alive. Senior Dru Anthrop was critical as he came in off the bench and provided four points, four assists, three steals and lead the team in rebounding with six.
“It feels like this is a bonus opportunity to come in here and we get to do it again,” Anthrop said of playing in Mackey. “Kind of feels like we have three senior nights, so we don't want to go out on a sour note.”