MADISON, Wis. — Purdue guard Carsen Edwards emerged from the visiting locker room at the Kohl Center on Friday, following the Boilers’ 84-80 victory over Wisconsin, with a smile on his face and soaking wet shoes in his hand.
The junior guard had dueled back and forth with Wisconsin center Ethan Happ. Two of the Big Ten’s leading candidates for Player of the Year played two of their best games of the season on the same court.
Happ scored almost automatically at the rim with crafty veteran moves. Edwards crisscrossed the ball between his legs and behind his back like a Globetrotter before pulling up for 3. Edwards split a ball screen and darted to the rim. Happ drove from the 3-point line, spinning and finishing at the rim like no other center in the Big Ten can.
Then, with 45 seconds remaining, Edwards pulled up from the “W” logo and nailed a 3 to give the Boilers a four-point lead. It looked like the dagger. And a fitting one at that. Who better to hit the game’s biggest shot than Edwards, who was well on his way to a 36-point night?
And then the game took a sharp right turn.
Over the final 22 seconds of regulation, Wisconsin guard D’Mitrik Trice banked in one 3-pointer and swished a second to send the game into overtime. A game the Boilermakers looked to have won started to look like the same type of close loss the Boilers have suffered multiple times this season on the road.
But with 46 seconds left in overtime and the score tied, Purdue drew up a ball screen for Edwards out of a timeout. When the junior guard came out of the screen, he rose up to shoot when he saw both Wisconsin defenders followed him.
Grady Eifert darted to the rim. Edwards zipped a pass inside. The senior forward was fouled. He hit both free throws to give Purdue a two-point lead and seal an 84-80 win.
“It’s something we practice,” Eifert said. “We do a drill like that, pressure free throws. Coach just talked about, we’re going to be put in those situations. That’s why you come to Purdue. That’s why you live for those moments.”
So instead of Edwards’ shot from the logo, it was a former walk-on, Eifert, who sunk the go-ahead baskets.
In a sense, he was a more fitting player to encapsulate this game. Yes, the game featured star power and elite scorers. Edwards scored 36 and Happ finished with 31.
But for Purdue (10-6, 3-2) to pull off its first road win of the season at Wisconsin (11-5, 3-2), it took a grinder’s mentality like Eifert’s, a strong showing from the so-called supporting cast and, most importantly, the ability to regroup — both individually for Edwards and collectively for the entire team.
For the team, Purdue had the game won before Trice’s prayers were answered from behind the arc. Earlier this year, the Boilermakers lost several tight games in the closing minutes like this, including in the Charleston Classic against Virginia Tech and on the road at Florida State and at Texas.
This time, it ended differently, as Ryan Cline scored 14 points, Nojel Eastern tallied 10 and nine rebounds and Trevion Williams finished one point away from his second straight double-double with 11 rebounds and nine points.
“Our guys showed a lot of grit and a lot of fight,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “We’ve obviously had a couple really close games on the road in non-conference that could have gone either way. This was big for our guys, just for their confidence. I was proud of them. They hung in there.”
Individually, Edwards regrouped as well.
Just one game earlier at Michigan State, Edwards shot just 3-for-16 from the field, including 2-for-13 from 3-point range. After that game, Painter was questioning Edwards’ decision-making and shot selection.
“I think he guards himself at times,” Painter said. “When he has breakdowns or he doesn’t have much success, he allows himself to not land on two feet or float a little bit too much. Really talented players who can get their own shot sometimes settle. I just thought he was settling for things.”
But rather than letting that one bad game spiral into a trend, Edwards reversed it. He followed what was his worst game of the season with one of his best. His 36 points was second this season only to a 40-point performance at Texas.
The key sequence, when Edwards chose to hit the open man instead of shoot, was an apt way to summarize the difference in his game Friday. He made the open play instead of the forced one.
“We came in here and knew we were going to battle and try to bounce back,” Edwards said. “That’s the good thing about basketball. Only two days until the next game, so we could compete again.”
After the game, Edwards’ teammates snuck up behind him in the locker room and doused him with and bucket of ice water. So maybe Edwards didn’t get the game-winning shot. But he got the shower … and the soaking wet shoes.
The Boilermakers are back in action tonight against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.