When I wrote my Mid Season Review for the Boilers back in Januar, things were looking pretty grim. They’d just come off a 20 point loss at Michigan State and had already shown signs of struggling under pressure. Carsen Edwards appeared to be trying to do too much and there was a lack of scoring from the rest of the team. Before the season started, I didn’t think the Boilers had any chance to make the NCAA Tournament. At that point in the season, I was still pretty confident in that prediction. I fully expected another season of disappointment that only Purdue fans would understand.
Boy was I wrong. After that loss to MSU, the Boilers rattled off eight straight wins, including one over MSU, took a tough loss to Maryland, and then won five more in a row. They split the B1G Regular Season Title with Michigan State to give them their 24th conference championship. Back in January, if you would’ve told me that Purdue was going to win the conference I, would’ve laughed in your face and bet you the entirety of my future earnings. Luckily for me, that didn’t happen and I won’t have to spend the rest of my life homeless.
After a late regular-season loss to Minnesota and another loss to the Gophers in the Big Ten Tournament, I once again thought this team was hopeless. I was ready for another first weekend NCAA Tournament upset. Once again, they proved me wrong. They beat Old Dominion, they beat the defending National Champs by 16, they beat a Tennessee team that was #1 in the country for a majority of the season, and they were one-tenth of a second away from beating Virginia to go to the Final Four. This team lost four starters who combined for some 4,000+ points and somehow outperformed everyone’s expectations. They were playing with house money the whole way and made the most out of it.
What made them so successful?
The first thing was the emergence of Nojel Eastern as point guard. Nojel struggled to find his role at the start of the year. He was an offensive liability, couldn’t make free throws, and was slow on defense. Nojel ended the season on the Big Ten’s all-defensive team and was named to the “all-glue” team. He was a prime contender for defensive player of the year and should be the favorite to win next years award. He will guard every teams best player and shut them down. Nojel has established himself as one of the best players in the conference. He can drive and score, dish it anywhere on the court, and is no longer a liability at the free throw line.
Second, Carsen Edwards got his teammates more involved. Carsen’s ability to score is second to none. He had to get help, though. Trust in guys like Ryan Cline, Nojel Eastern, Aaron Wheeler, Grady Eifert, Matt Haarms, and Trevion Williams really got this team on a roll. Against Tennesee in the Sweet 16, Cline dropped 27 on 10-13 shooting and Matt Haarms was putting up 10 a game with ease for the better part of the season. Haarms even scored the game-winner at Indiana late in the season. Eifert made some of the biggest plays in school history down the stretch and Wheeler emerged as a new scoring threat that wasn’t there prior.
Lastly, they bought in and believed in each other. It would’ve been easy to quit when they were sitting at 6-5, but they didn’t. They dug deep and made themselves champions. They have established themselves as the best Purdue team since 1980 and I can’t thank them enough as a fan for what they did for the program.