MADISON, Wis. ((DailyNews)) — Zach Edey didn’t want to know whether Purdue already had clinched the Big Ten outright regular-season title before the end of his team’s game with Wisconsin.
Edey’s coach couldn’t resist finding out.
“I wish I could lie to you, but I asked,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said after the fifth-ranked Boilermakers’ 63-61 victory over Wisconsin on Thursday night. “I’m nosy that way.”
Purdue (25-5, 14-5) had sealed the crown earlier in the evening by virtue of Illinois’ 91-87 double-overtime victory over Michigan. That game concluded late in the first half of the Purdue-Wisconsin matchup.
But there was still plenty at stake in this game as Purdue sought to make its case for a No. 1 seed and Wisconsin (16-13, 8-11) attempted to boost its postseason credentials.
Edey also intended to make sure Purdue didn’t back into this title, which explains why he didn’t want anyone to tell him the Illinois-Michigan result.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to win the Big Ten like that, so I was just trying to keep that out of my mind,” said Edey, who had 17 points and 19 rebounds.
Neither team led by more than three points for the final 12 minutes. That made the loss that much tougher to take for Wisconsin, which has played in 21 of the last 22 NCAA Tournaments but may need to make a deep Big Ten Tournament run to get there this season.
“We’ve been playing well enough to win and we just haven’t been able to get it done,” Wisconsin forward Tyler Wahl said.
Edey’s presence made the difference.
The 7-foot-4 center and national player of the year candidate helped Purdue outrebound Wisconsin 37-23 and outscore the Badgers 30-18 in the paint. Edey also helped limit Wahl and 7-footer Steven Crowl to a total of seven points, well below their combined season average of 22.8 heading into the game.
In the eighth and final lead change of the second half, Edey made both ends of a one-and-one to put Purdue ahead 58-57 with 1:45 left. Edey had been 1 of 6 from the line before sinking those two.
“After the way I started at the line, I knew there were going to be opportunities at the end of the game,” Edey said. “I knew there were going to be big opportunities. So I kind of tried to focus on that.”
Wisconsin’s Chucky Hepburn missed a baseline jumper with 1:15 remaining, but Purdue’s Ethan Morton misfired on a 3-pointer with 47 seconds remaining.
The Badgers called a timeout and got the ball to Max Klesmit, who missed a driving layup attempt as the Kohl Center crowd pleaded for a foul call.
“I was just trying to get to the rim, get in the paint and make a play,” said Klesmit, who scored a season-high 19 points for a second straight game. “I probably should have come to a two-foot stop and controlled myself, but I went off one and missed it.”
Purdue then stayed ahead and won for just the second time in five games by converting its free throws. Purdue went 9 of 10 on foul shots in the final 3:45 after going 2 of 8 up to that point.
Wisconsin had the ball while trailing by three on a couple of occasions in the final 10 seconds, but both times Purdue fouled before the Badgers could attempt a tying 3-pointer.
Morton made just one of two free throws with four seconds left, giving Wisconsin one last shot with the score 63-61. Klesmit had just gotten past midcourt when he attempted a potential winning 3-point attempt that fell well short of the basket.
Purdue: The Boilermakers still aren’t playing nearly as well as they were when they had the No. 1 ranking, but they deserve credit for winning on the road against a desperate team. Painter shook up his lineup as Brandon Newman made his first start of the season and Mason Gillis made his second Big Ten start of the year.
Wisconsin: The Badgers won a share of the Big Ten title last year because of an uncanny knack for winning close games, but they haven’t been as fortunate this time. This tough loss came four nights after a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of regulation led to an overtime loss at Michigan.POLL IMPLICATIONS
If Purdue follows this win with a victory over Illinois in its regular-season finale, the Boilermakers should stay in the top five for a 15th straight week.
Purdue: Hosts Illinois on Sunday
Wisconsin: At Minnesota on Sunday ___
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