WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — Purdue coach Matt Painter is finally starting to see his team play the way he envisioned.
Carsen Edwards pours in points, the Boilermakers supporting cast continues to get stronger and the defense is improving.
It was a devastating combination Saturday. Edwards scored 24 points, Matt Haarms had 12 with his best offensive output in more than a month and the Boilermakers stymied one of the nation’s highest-scoring teams with a 73-62 victory over Belmont.
“I think that’s what we’re searching for,” Painter said. “Now, can we beat good teams when we don’t shoot the ball well? We didn’t shoot the ball well in the second half today and we beat a good team so that’s what I think we have to keep working toward.”
Instead of knocking out the Bruins after taking a 57-34 lead with 9:53 left, Purdue (8-5) gave up 12 points in 98 seconds and allowed Belmont to get as close as seven with 5:23 to play before putting it away.
But with back-to-back wins, a 6-0 home mark this season and 19 consecutive home wins over nonconference foes, the timing couldn’t be better. Big Ten play resumes next week, and the Boilermakers now have some momentum.
“That’s the best I’ve seen them defensively this season and Matt told me after the game it was the best he thought they played defensively this season,” Belmont coach Rick Byrd said.
The difference showed up in all sorts of ways.
While Edwards played a typical game with three 3-pointers and five rebounds, Haarms went 4 of 5 from the field, grabbed eight rebounds, had three blocks and gave Purdue a significant advantage in the post.
Meanwhile, the defense held Belmont (9-2) to a season-low point total.
Kevin McClain led the Bruins with 21 points and Nick Muszynski had 14 while Dylan Windler, the Ohio Valley Conference preseason player of the year, had seven points, 11 rebounds and three assists in front of his home-state fans.
Windler missed five of his first seven shots including a breakaway layup. Byrd acknowledged his top player wasn’t the same after that miss.
Neither were the Bruins, who quickly found themselves down 16-8 and 40-24 at the half following an 11-3 spurt and a replay review that corrected one of Edwards’ baskets to a 3. The Boilers opened the second half with six straight points and eventually extended the margin to 57-34.
Two quick turnovers and two 3s helped Belmont get back in contention and when McClain made a 3 with 5:23 to go, Purdue’s lead had been cut to 61-54.
Purdue answered with an 8-3 spurt to make it 69-57 before putting it away at the free-throw line.
Belmont: The Bruins have been one of the nation’s most consistently successful mid-major programs for more than a decade. They weren’t themselves Saturday. The offense struggled and he defense never really found an answer. Perhaps, it was an aberration but Belmont wanted a better showing for the four Indiana players on its roster.
Purdue: The Boilermakers seem to be rounding into form. They’re starting to piece together a supporting cast to help Edwards and if this smothering defense continues to play well, they could be a real challenge in Big Ten play. What they still must show is they can use this blueprint to win on the road this season.
Belmont: The nation’s most prolific 3-point shooting team since 1996-97 wound up 11 of 38 on 3s. … Belmont shot 36.4 percent from the field, finishing well below its average of 89.5 points. … Windler finished 3 of 12 from the field. … The Bruins’ three-game winning streak ended.
Purdue: Nojel Eastern had eight points while Grady Eifert grabbed nine rebounds. … The Boilermakers made only two 3s and shot 34.6 percent overall from the field in the second half.
THEY SAID IT
Belmont: “It’s easy to play with freedom when you’re behind,” Byrd said when asked about the Bruins’ late scoring flurry.
Purdue: “It (the rally) is not something you want to happen but, in hindsight, I think it’s good that it happened. We lost our composure and we regained our composure,” Painter said.
Belmont: Begins a four-game home stand Thursday against Jacksonville State.
Purdue: Hosts Iowa on Thursday as Big Ten play kicks into high gear.
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