Coming off its first road win of the season at Nebraska, Indiana men’s basketball will be back in Bloomington for a matchup with No. 4 Purdue at 7 p.m. Thursday at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Indiana has lost nine straight games against Purdue and last beat its in-state rival on Feb. 20, 2016, with former head coach Tom Crean at the helm.
“They've kind of had their way here of late, but hopefully we can make that change tomorrow night,” head coach Mike Woodson said to the media Wednesday. “It's not going to be something that's going to be hand-delivered to us. You've got to go get it.”
Purdue, which is 15-2 this season, has been ranked as high as No. 1in the country this season and is coming off a double overtime 96-88 win against No. 17 Illinois. Both of Purdue’s losses have been against Big Ten opponents, Rutgers and then-No. 8 Wisconsin. It's gone 3-1 against ranked opponents.
Here’s a few things to take note of ahead of the highly anticipated matchup:
Big man battle
The Boilermakers pose a challenge to the Hoosiers with sophomore center Zach Edey and senior forward Trevion Williams in the post. Edey and Williams, who stand 7-foot-4 and 6-foot-10, respectively, have combined for 29 points and 16 rebounds per game this season.
Another difference-maker for Purdue down low is freshman forward Caleb Furst, who stands at 6-foot-10 and averages 5.4 points per game. Indiana will need to match up with Purdue’s size, but it remains to be seen how much of an influence junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis will have after getting injured in the team’s last game against Nebraska.
Woodson said Jackson-Davis didn’t participate much at practice Tuesday, but the plan was to work him back into the mix Wednesday to have him ready to play Thursday. Whether Jackson-Davis is 100% or not, Woodson said senior center Michael Durr, who is 7-feet tall, will likely see more action Thursday to help match up with Purdue’s big men.
“He's going to have to play some minutes tomorrow, again, because of the fact that they have a double threat in Williams and the big fella (Edey),” Woodson said. “We've got to keep bodies on them. He will play some tomorrow, probably a little bit more than he's played here in the past.”
Durr played in 16 of Indiana’s 17 games this season so far, but he averages just 1.9 points in 7.2 minutes in relief of Jackson-Davis. However, Durr averaged 8.8 points and 7.9 rebounds last season as a starter at the University of South Florida.
Assembly Hall’s impact
It’s no secret the Hoosiers feed off the crowd at Assembly Hall, and they’re known for taking down ranked opponents at home. While they’ve struggled on the road, the Hoosiers come into Thursday’s game with an unblemished 11-0 record on their home court.
Some of the Hoosier faithful, however, believe Indiana’s record correlates with Woodson’s attire, more specifically attributing the team’s wins to when he wears a suit at home and its losses to when he wears a sweatsuit on the road. Indiana’s fan base bought into the superstition, and the student section plans on wearing suits to the matchup Thursday.
The team hasn’t fully bought into the power of the suit, but its goal is to continue winning at home, where Woodson wears his suit.
“Our main goal is to stay undefeated at home, and I feel like if we do that we’ll have a big shot at the Big Ten at the end of the year,” senior guard Rob Phinisee said. “We’re really just looking forward to the atmosphere tomorrow, and if we see everyone in suits it will be pretty funny honestly.”
Woodson’s history with Purdue
While it’s his first season as head coach with Indiana, Woodson is no stranger to the in-state rivalry between his team and Purdue. Woodson faced Purdue eight times as a player, including the final game of his college career, and averaged 16 points in those matchups.
Woodson recalled the Sweet 16 game against Purdue in the 1979-80 season that ended his college career, saying Wednesday it was tough to go out against them. He said there were a lot of accolades on the line, including the prospect of playing in the Final Four, which his hometown of Indianapolis hosted that season.
Purdue beat Indiana 76-69 in that game, and Woodson was Indiana’s second-leading scorer with 14 points. Reflecting on the loss, Woodson said he didn’t have enough in the tank to win after returning from a back surgery, but he told Bob Knight not to baby him.
“For me it was a hell of a run, that's all I can say,” Woodson said. “It put me back in the position to be able to still continue to play, and that meant more to me than anything.”
It was a tough year for Woodson, he said, but he’s moved on, and all is great, because he’s back coaching. He said despite the rivalry’s importance, he just wants Indiana to commit to playing for 40 minutes and walk out of Assembly Hall on Thursday with a win.
“A lot of these guys that are new, they don't know, and I get it, but I'm not selling that,” Woodson said. “To me, it's the next game. The rivalry is what it is. Protecting home is more important."