WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — When the season began, No. 17 Purdue knew it had two of the nation's best big men in 6-foot-8 sophomore power forward Caleb Swanigan and 7-foot-2 junior center Isaac Haas.
What the Boilermakers did not kmow was what kind of production they would receive from their perimeter players. After this week's Cancun Challenge, coach Matt Painter may have found the answer.
Swanigan had 22 points and 13 rebounds, and freshman guard Carsen Edwards added 19 points, leading Purdue to a 79-68 victory over NJIT on Saturday.
Swanigan was a perfect 6 of 6 from the field and 10 of 10 from the free throw line, and Edwards scored 15 second-half points to help Purdue (5-1) pull away from a 37-34 halftime lead.
Swanigan was the MVP of this week's Cancun Challenge, and Edwards scored a career-high 21 points in Wednesday night's victory over Auburn in the championship game.
“We're still turnover prone (16 on Saturday), and that's a problem, but we are doing some good things with our zone offense, especially when we are posting our big guys in those sets, which some teams don't do,” said Painter, who got 25 points from guard Dakota Mathias in Tuesday's victory against Utah State in Cancun.
“I also like our focus at the start of second halves. We are able to mix and match lineups, and we're still getting some of those nice second-half runs. Carsen was a big part of that today.”
Edwards helped Purdue maintain a double-digit lead throughout most of the second half.
“I am just kind of picking my spots,” Edwards said. “I am just playing off my teammates. I am playing the game and letting it come to me. I try not to lose confidence at all.”
Damon Lynn had 20 of his 33 points in the second half for NJIT (3-4), which also got 12 points from Chris Jenkins.
Highlanders coach Brian Kennedy appreciated his team's effort.
“Obviously, Purdue is a Top 25 team with two of the best big men in the country, and those two guys aren't going anywhere,” Kennedy said. “So, I told our guys from the beginning that we had to fight, fight and keep fighting, which is what NJIT basketball is all about. We may not get the top recruits in the country, but we are going to compete and fight as hard as we can.”
The momentum swung completely in Purdue's favor with 9:12 remaining when Rob Ukawuba fouled Swanigan and also was whistled for a technical foul. Swanigan made four consecutive free throws for a 61-47 lead.
“I just grabbed the rebound, walked away and the guy called the foul,” Swanigan said. “(Ukawuba) started walking after me, and I just kept walking away. I was surprised they called a technical so quickly. I'll take it.”
NJIT: With Lynn, the Highlanders have a proven scorer (22.5 points a game) and never backed down from a Purdue team that came in averaging 83 points and shooting 51.9 percent from the field. Beginning with Dec. 30, 2014, NJIT is 39-22.
Purdue: The Boilermakers were sloppy with 10 first-half turnovers in their first game since winning the Cancun Challenge, but with Carsen Edwards, Mathias and Vince Edwards beginning to complement big men Swanigan and Haas, Purdue is assembling a really nice blend of interior and perimeter scoring options.
Having beaten Utah State, Auburn and NJIT by a collective 57 points this week in addition to capturing the Cancun Challenge championship by beating Auburn by 25, look for the Boilermakers to climb in the next poll.
Through six games, Swanigan is averaging 18.8 points and 12 rebounds, having made 35 of 57 field goal attempts and 38 of 51 free throws.
Painter is impressed by the way NJIT's Lynn plays the game, making 10 of 18 field goal attempts Saturday, including 8 of 13 from 3-point range.
“He is just such a tough cover,” Painter said. “He is a little different in the way he shoots it, but even if he is out there 25 to 27 feet from the basket, you can't give him a step or two.”
NJIT: The Highlanders will play host to St. Francis (Pa.) on Wednesday night.
Purdue: The Boilermakers will travel to No. 10 Louisville on Wednesday night in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.