No. 18 Purdue faces unbeaten Utah State in Cancun
As a member of the powerful Big Ten Conference, 18th-ranked Purdue traditionally has plenty of elite November tournament playing opportunities.
Maui. The Virgin Islands. Puerto Rico. Las Vegas. And now, the eight-team Cancun Challenge in Mexico.
Matt Painter, in his 12th season coaching his alma mater, watched his team rally to beat Georgia State on Friday night in an on-campus, opening-round game.
At 8:30 p.m. ET Tuesday night, Purdue (2-1) will play Utah State (3-0) in the Riviera Division game. Auburn (3-0) will play Texas Tech (3-0) at 6 p.m. . Tuesday's winners will play for the championship at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.
In the Mayan Division, Georgia State (1-2) will play The New Jersey Institute of Technology (2-2) at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, followed at 3 p.m. by Eastern Kentucky (1-3) vs. Idaho State (0-3). Tuesday's winners will play for that championship at 3 p.m. Wednesday.
Consolation games in each division will be played at 12:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Wednesday.
Painter's 2009 team won the Paradise Jam in The Virgin Islands, and last season's team won the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic in Connecticut.
While Painter is selective about November events, there are specific criteria he seeks.
“First of all, you make sure you are going to have quality opponents on a neutral court,” Painter said, “Last year, we played Old Dominion and Florida, and those were two very competitive games on a neutral court, which really helped our team grow.
“That is what we want this year in addition to the two Cancun Challenge games we have at home. In Georgia State, we played a team that is only two years removed from the NCAA tournament. The most important thing is the quality of the event, and the warm weather is just a bonus.”
After dropping an exciting 79-76 decision to then-No. 3 Villanova on Nov. 14, Purdue was flat and trailed Georgia State 56-44 with 7:08 remaining Friday night before finishing the game on a 20-0 run for a 64-56 victory.
Utah State, led by 6-foot-9 senior forward Jalen Moore (18 points a game), is averaging 83.3 points and is shooting 51.4 percent from the field. Painter knows that another poor effort could result in defeat.
“When you have a mature team, you think you will be ready to play,” Painter said. “Right now, we've got some guys who are missing shots and then not moving onto the next play.
“We really have to have a sense of urgency. On Friday night, Georgia State outhustled us and deserved to win the game.”
Purdue is led by 6-8 sophomore forward Caleb Swanigan (20.7 points, 13 rebounds) and by 7-2 junior center Isaac Haas (18.3 points, 3 rebounds), but junior guard Dakota Mathias saved the day against Georgia State with two late 3-pointers.
Mathias knows the effort must improve in Cancun.
“We've got to bring it every night,” Mathias said. “To be able to win like we did Friday night, we've got to continue it going into Cancun.”
Fifth-year Boilermaker grad student guard Spike Albrecht believes the Georgia State game will serve as a good lesson.
“We definitely want to learn and grow from (Georgia State),” Albrecht said.
No matter if Purdue plays Auburn or Texas Tech on Wednesday, there are interesting ties.
Auburn's Ronnie Johnson was the Boilermakers' starting point guard for two seasons before transferring to Houston. As a fifth-year graduate student, Johnson now plays for Auburn.
Texas Tech first-year coach Chris Beard was at Arkansas-Little Rock last season and coached his team to an NCAA Tournament overtime victory against Purdue in Denver.