In front of an incredible crowd at Welsh-Ryan Arena’s final game before renovations, Northwestern (21-10, 10-8 Big Ten) and Purdue (25-6, 14-4 Big Ten) battled tooth and nail to the end, but clutch free throws from Vince Edwards and the play of Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Caleb Swanigan down the stretch led the visitors to a 69-65 victory.
As has been the case often this season, Northwestern’s first score came Dererk Pardon who — at the opposite end of the court from his game-winning basket against Michigan — put in a layup to get the Wildcats going. Pardon made all three of his shots in the first half as he thoroughly outplayed the Boilermakers’ Isaac Haas.
Purdue, thanks to some hot shooting from Dakota Mathias, scored seven straight points after a Caleb Swanigan dunk to take a 9-2 lead. But, Northwestern would respond with a 9-0 run of its own — starting with a Bryant McIntosh — to get a packed Welsh-Ryan loud, and it was rocking.
That was how much of the opening half went, with one team controlling play for a few minutes or so before it shifted to the other side.
McIntosh led the Wildcats in the opening 20 minutes, scoring 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting. Both he and Scottie Lindsey made two three-pointers apiece, which accounted for all of Northwestern’s early damage from beyond the arc.
Purdue head coach Matt Painter was visibly frustrated with his team’s transition defense a few times in the first half, as Northwestern was able to get on the break with ease off defensive rebounds.
It looked like the Wildcats might seize momentum with their second 9-0 spurt of the half, punctuated by a Lindsey chasedown block on P.J. Thompson and subsequent three to go ahead 21-12. However, the Boilermakers ripped off 11 consecutive points, again owing to Northwestern continually losing Mathias on the perimeter. He scored 12 first half points to lead Purdue.
A driving layup from Lindsey at the 4:38 mark gave the Wildcats a 28-27 lead. Haas coughed up the ball — Northwestern’s success with doubling bigs worked again on Sunday — on the next possession which led to another McIntosh jumper.
But Purdue kept hanging around, as Vince Edwards — who scored 17 points in Purdue’s 80-59 win over Northwestern in West Lafayette on February 1st — started to attack the rim and draw fouls. That, and a late Swanigan layup, resulted in a tie score, 37-all, at the half.
Edwards scored the first two baskets after the intermission, as he drove right to the rim for consecutive layups. Northwestern’s offense stalled, and wasn’t moving the ball nearly as well as it did earlier in the game. After contested misses from Pardon and Vic Law, McIntosh was able to get to the free throw line for the first time all day, splitting a pair to cut the Boilermakers’ lead to 41-38.
A big moment came with 16:49 remaining, as Sanjay Lumpkin drew a shooting foul on Swanigan. It was the standout sophomore’s third foul, so he immediately headed to the bench, leaving the 7-foot-2 Haas to man the paint by himself as Painter went to a smaller lineup.
That decision worked well for Purdue, as it pushed the Wildcats away from the basket, resulting in some low-percentage jumpers. A 6-0 mini-run for the Boilermakers — all without their best players — gave them a 47-42 advantage, Purdue’s largest of the game up until that point.
Following a Vince Edwards miss, Lindsey got Northwestern on the fastbreak again and McIntosh found Law for a dunk. The assist was his fourth of the game and the 529th of his career, which surpassed Juice Thompson for the most in program history. McIntosh’s layup of his own, after a missed Ryan Cline three, brought the Wildcats to within a single point.
Swanigan checked back in with just under 12 minutes left and got to work, hitting his first shot. A few seconds later, he grabbed his 10th rebound of the game to complete his 25th double-double of the season.
Purdue threatened to pull away, taking a 55-48 lead on a Swanigan dunk, but Northwestern managed to hang around, mostly on the back of McIntosh who finished with 25 points. The Wildcats got almost nothing from Vic Law (2-of-13 shooting for four points) and the bench (four points) so it was up to the Indiana native to take things into his own hands.
Edwards and Swanigan kept scoring, though, and with Purdue ahead 59-50, Chris Collins called a timeout. A few possessions later, after missed threes from both teams, Lumpkin rebounded a McIntosh shot and put it back in to stem the tide. The Wildcats took advantage of a short cold spell from the Boilermakers with a McIntosh layup and Pardon 15-footer to get within 59-56 and less than five minutes left to play.
The Northwestern defense started to lock down on Swanigan, with Lumpkin providing great help to Pardon on the block. The fruits of that labor paid off, as Purdue settled for long threes and went away from the basket. On Senior Night, one of the Wildcats’ two seniors was huge on the other end of the floor as well.
Before Sunday, Lumpkin had scored a total of just six points in Northwestern’s previous four games, taking only six shots. In his final go-around at Welsh-Ryan, the Minnesota native was a perfect 5-of-5 from the field for 13 points, all of which came on either layups or free throws. He also finished with seven rebounds, and his second putback of the game — at the 3:10 mark, cut the Purdue lead to 60-59.
The Wildcats had a bunch of chances to finally break through and retake the lead, namely a baseline jumper from McIntosh that missed off the front rim. Purdue always remained at an arm’s length, though, as a pair of Edwards free throws and a gorgeous Swanigan fadeaway 10-footer increased the cushion to 64-59.
With that said, following Pardon’s second jumper of the game, Swanigan missed a shot in the lane with 30.7 seconds left that hit out of bounds, giving the ball back to Northwestern. And what do you know, Wednesday’s hero — Nathan Taphorn — had the ball in his hands with the chance to tie a 66-63 game. However, he airballed a three, and Mathias would grab the rebound and split a pair of free throws.
McIntosh got a 20-footer to roll in and bring the Wildcats to within two, but Edwards knocked in two free throws to salt the game away and finalize the score in favor of Purdue.
- Vic Law struggled with his shot for basically all of February, but seemed to right the ship with his efficient 18-point, 7-of-10 shooting performance on Michigan. His play on Sunday resembled that of his weaker efforts against Rutgers, Illinois and Indiana as he couldn’t get into the flow of the offense all game. He was forcing contested threes and deep twos and nothing was falling. Northwestern needs him to find his form in the Big Ten Tournament if the Wildcats are going to go anywhere.
- What more can you say about Sanjay Lumpkin. After tearing up during the pre-game Senior Day ceremonies, he put together his best game in weeks. The endless hustle he brings to the table on both offense and defense usually doesn’t pay off in the stat sheet, but it did against Purdue. He was everywhere, be it defending Swanigan on the block or grabbing loose rebounds. A very strong way to cap his career in Evanston.
- Northwestern is now locked in as the No. 6 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, which begins on Wednesday.