Purdue has taken over the best record in the Big Ten thanks to narrow wins over two of its closest competitors. Protecting that lead might not be as challenging Saturday.
The 19th-ranked Boilermakers go for their 11th straight win when they visit Northwestern, which is still looking for its first conference victory.
Purdue (20-5, 11-1) has used its longest win streak in more than a decade to take a one-game lead over second-place Wisconsin. It hadn’t won 10 in a row since an 11-game run Jan. 27-March 2, 1996.
Purdue’s latest wins have had major impacts on the conference standings. The Boilermakers beat then-No. 8 Wisconsin 72-67 on the road last Saturday, then held off a Michigan State rally to beat the 10th-ranked Spartans 60-54 on Tuesday.
It’s the first time in school history Purdue has beaten Top 10 teams in back-to-back games, and it will likely help the Boilermakers move up in the rankings. Their current ranking is their highest since they were 17th in the Dec. 15, 2003 poll.
Freshman forward Robbie Hummel, who didn’t play in Purdue’s lone conference loss Jan. 8 at Michigan State because of an illness, had 24 points and 11 rebounds with four 3-pointers in Tuesday’s win over the Spartans.
The Boilermakers continued their best Big Ten start since 1987-88, when they won 15 of their first 16 conference games and finished 16-2 against Big Ten opponents.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Hummel, averaging 20.7 points and 7.0 rebounds while shooting 63.9 percent from the field in his last three games. “We’ve put ourselves in position coming down the stretch in the Big Ten season. It’s just a total team effort.”
Despite notching another big home victory, Purdue students didn’t flood the court like they did after a win over Wisconsin on Jan. 26. Sophomore guard Chris Kramer sees that as a sign of progress.
“I’m glad they didn’t rush the floor,” Kramer said. “I feel when they rush the floor, it’s like you don’t expect to win. We’ve got to come into every game expecting to win.”
The Boilermakers will likely enter this contest with that attitude. Northwestern (7-15, 0-11) has dropped its last 16 league games - not including a loss to Michigan State in last year’s conference tournament - for its longest conference skid since dropping 32 in a row from Feb. 10, 1999-Feb. 6, 2001.
That losing streak included Northwestern’s last winless campaign, as it went 0-16 in 1999-2000.
The Wildcats have been outscored by an average of 16.1 points in their 11 conference losses this season. They trailed by just one with 14 minutes left in Wednesday’s game against Ohio State, but then allowed the Buckeyes to go on a 19-4 run en route to a 65-47 defeat.
“There is sort of a pattern that we’ve been seeing here for a little bit,” said Northwestern coach Bill Carmody, whose team was within four points of Michigan State with nine minutes remaining before losing by 15 last Saturday. “You play with them for a while.”
Carmody’s team lost both meetings with Purdue last season, snapping Northwestern’s five-game win streak in the series. The Boilermakers are 115-41 all-time against the Wildcats, including 50-29 in Evanston.