No. 14 Purdue returns from break vs. Lipscomb

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — It’s been nine days since No. 14 Purdue played a minute of competitive basketball — a 97-48 blowout over Tennessee State on Dec. 21.

In that nine-day stretch, aside from a few days of holiday celebrations with family, the Boilermakers have been focusing on basketball, and basketball only.

“With no classes, it’s just a time to get in the gym and get better,” said PJ Thompson, who scored 17 points against Tennessee State. “There’s not that much stress going on, so it’s just strictly basketball over break. It’s a chance to improve your individual game and just get better at what Purdue needs to do in order to be better.”

Purdue (12-2, 2-0 Big Ten) will put its eight-game win streak on the line Saturday when it hosts Lipscomb (9-4), which has won three straight.

“I think it’s a good thing for everybody,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said of the long break between games. “No matter what you’re doing at this time, I think it really helps guys. You can get rejuvenated. Then you’ve got to get back into the practice swing of things and trying to improve in practice. So we’ll practice for four days, and then play Lipscomb.”

The Bisons also played most recently on Dec. 21, defeating Navy 73-64 behind Garrison Matthew’s 27 points. Matthews averages 20.6 points, which ranks 39th in the nation.

Lipscomb coach Casey Alexander attributed the win to Matthews’ ability to pick apart the Midshipmen’s zone defense in the second half, when he scored 20 of his 27 points.

“Every time that we had to respond I felt like we did,” Alexander said. “That shows a lot of maturity from our players and a lot of belief in who we are, and what we’ve done and what we can do.”

The Bisons have focused primarily on defense during nonconference play, which Alexander says is the key to the team’s recent success. Lipscomb has held its opponents to an average of 41 percent from the field over the course of its three-game win streak, holding all three teams below their respective 3-point average.

“Defense continues to carry us,” Alexander said. “Which, not many people around our teams have said that in previous years.”

Lipscomb’s defense will face arguably its greatest tests of the season in Purdue.

The Boilermakers rank 19th in the nation in scoring at 76.9 points per game, and second in scoring margin while defeating opponents by an average of 22.4 points.

While its offense is as experienced as it is versatile, Purdue still considers itself a defense-first program. The Boilermakers allow 64.1 points per game, which ranks 32nd nationally, and average 6.1 blocks, which ranks 14th. Freshman Matt Haarms averages nearly three blocks, which ties for second among the nation’s freshmen.

“It all starts on the defensive end,” said Purdue senior Dakota Mathias. “Getting the stop…As our defense improves, I think our offense is going to get better.”

Purdue looks to remain perfect in the month of December for the second-consecutive year. The Boilermakers have not lost a game in December since falling to Butler on Dec. 19, 2015.