Nothing neighborly about it: Purdue looks for win over nearby Valpo
It will be seven years to the day since Purdue and Valparaiso last met on the hardwood. On Dec. 7, 2010, the Boilermakers went on the road and defeated the Crusaders 76-58.
On Thursday, the two renew their in-state rivalry when the Crusaders travel 90 miles to West Lafayette to take on the No. 21 Boilermakers at Mackey Arena.
Valparaiso (8-0) has had a week to prepare. In their last game, the Crusaders defeated Utah State 72-65 behind Tevonn Walker's 25 points and nine rebounds.
"The story of the game was on the defensive end," Valparaiso coach Matt Lottich told the Northwest Times of Indiana. "Overall, I was pleased with the effort. It just took us a while, I don't know that we ever really found a rhythm on the offensive end, but defensively I thought we were locked in all night."
Defense will be the key if Valpo wants to end the trend against the Boilermakers.
Purdue is 15-1 all-time against Valparaiso and has won 10 straight in the series. But this year's edition might be the best Crusaders team the Boilermakers will have played.
After 10 years in the Horizon League, the Crusaders are making their mark on defense in the first year in the Missouri Valley Conference.
They're a team that will "give you fits," Purdue coach Matt Painter told reporters.
Purdue has reeled off four straight wins, having defeated Arizona, Louisville, Maryland and Northwestern. Painter's squad is getting the job done in all facets of the game.
Four Purdue players are averaging at least 13.5 points, led by Carsen Edwards with 16.3.
Isaac Haas, at 7 feet 2, usually has a size advantage. He is shooting almost 63 percent from the field as he averages 15.7 points per game.
Matt Haarms, a 7-3 freshman, is giving the Boilermakers solid minutes off the bench.
The Crusaders have their own pair of 7-footers, although neither boasts nearly the amount of experience that Haas brings to the table.
Jaume Sorolla is a 7-foot sophomore from Spain who averages 6.0 points and 3.7 rebounds. Derrik Smits, the 7-2 son of longtime Indiana Pacers center Rik Smits, is averaging 7.4 and 4.4.
The Boilermakers haven't had as much time as the Crusaders to prepare. Purdue opened its Big Ten season with close wins over Maryland and Sunday against Northwestern.
Haas put up 47 points, 14 boards and four blocks in those two games.
Northwestern tried to guard him without rotating any help, and Haas' eyes lit up.
"I'm thinking, it's time to eat," he told the Lafayette (Ind.) Journal & Courier after scoring a career-high 26 points.
And the game plan, similar to last season when Haas and Caleb Swanigan patrolled the paint, is to make sure the big men get enough touches to do some damage.
"Especially last year, it wasn't fully dependent on Biggie (Swanigan), but those late clock, late-game plays, we kind of always went to him and hoped he'd give us a basket," Purdue guard Ryan Cline said. "But Isaac has obviously been stepping up.
"He's taught whenever he's one-on-one he's got to score the ball, and that's exactly what he did" against Northwestern.
He will be tested by the Crusaders' defense, which was ranked second in the nation at the beginning of the week in field-goal percentage allowed (34.3 percent), trailing only Michigan State.
The trip to Purdue is the first of six road games for the Crusaders, who will not play a home game for 32 days.
"Scheduling has always been difficult," Lottich told the Lafayette newspaper. "We like it on the road. We're 'Road Warriors.' We like our backs against the wall. We're going to take it as a challenge.
"Yes, it's not ideal, but the reality is we can't really control the schedule we put together. No excuses."