WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Given their current positions, it’s a game Penn State and No. 21 Purdue each need to win.
Only one will be happy after the Nittany Lions (11-8, 3-3) and Boilermakers (15-4, 4-2) play at noon Saturday in Mackey Arena.
Led by junior guard Shep Garner (12.6 points) and freshmen Lamar Stevens (12.0) and Tony Carr (11.7), Penn State is coming off Wednesday’s 78-75 heartbreaking loss to Indiana, which won on James Blackmon, Jr.’s 3-pointer at the buzzer in the Bryce Jordan Center.
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After playing at Purdue on Saturday, the Nittany Lions play at No. 17 Wisconsin on Tuesday. It’s certainly possible the young team could be 11-10 after facing the Boilermakers and Badgers.
But Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday afternoon that it will not be an easy victory. Penn State beat Minnesota, which defeated Purdue in West Lafayette.
“I see just how hard they play,” Painter said of the Nittany Lions. “They are a good defensive group that makes it difficult for you to get the ball inside. Pat (Chambers) has done a really good job of plugging in a lot of young guys and still getting them to play good defense. That is a difficult thing to do when you blend in so many young guys.”
Painter also is impressed that Penn State does not force its offense.
“They are patient on offense,” Painter said. “They push the basketball, but in the Big Ten, they have been more patient. They are young, so it’s about your personnel understanding what they do. We know what their older guys are capable of, just from playing against them in the past.
“It’s no different than being in an exempt tournament and then seeing a team on the second night of that tournament. You try to know their tendencies, but you just try to stick to your rules defensively.”
Purdue leading scorer Caleb Swanigan said the team’s recent offensive proficiency has enhanced its defense. The Boilermakers crushed Illinois 91-68 on Tuesday.
“When our offense is clicking, we have to go into a set defense every time,” Swanigan said. “It makes it harder, and we knock teams out of a lot of their stuff. We stay disciplined.”
Purdue’s Big Ten schedule certainly gets more difficult after the Penn State game. Of the Boilermakers’ final 11 league games, seven are on the road, beginning Tuesday night at Michigan State.
Penn State is 2-1 in true road games, losing only at Michigan. Chambers is confident the Nittany Lions will play well in Mackey Arena.
“We have played pretty good on the road,” Chambers said. “Hopefully, we have that mentality to go out and compete against Purdue. These young guys get the utmost confidence. They are unwavering. We have plenty of games left. It’s up. It’s down. We have to believe in the process.”