Carsen Edwards carries Purdue past Illinois with performance for ages
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Long after Purdue finalized its 93-86 win Thursday night at Illinois, Carsen Edwards navigated the bowels of the State Farm Center and emerged again onto the playing floor he’d just used as his own personal playground, on his way back to his locker room.
A woman decked out in Illini gear chirped at him.
“Hey,” she said, “can we get a picture?”
It was superstar treatment for a player who for 40 minutes tonight was just that.
Purdue’s sophomore — the “best guard in the Big Ten,” as his coach deemed him afterward — scored 40 points to carry the Boilermakers to a hard-fought win in their second-to-last regular season game.
The last Purdue player to hit that mark: Glenn Robinson in 1994, during his national player-of-the-year season.
Edwards was asked afterward about the finest game of his basketball career prior to tonight. He mentioned a 50-point game his senior season at Atascocita High School in Houston, a game in which he made 13-of-15 three-pointers.
This, he said, topped it.
"At this level, with this competition, (it is)," Edwards said, joining Painter at the post-game press conference, whereas Painter normally flies solo in front of the mic after road games. "It is, being able to come up with the win on the road."
Edwards took 19 shots, he made 11 of them, including a trampoline-style one-hand dunk off a steal in the first half and his second facial of the season, in the personal space of Illinois guard Trent Frazier during the game’s home stretch.
"The best part about it was he was efficient, too," said teammate Dakota Mathias, whose 18 points, eight rebounds and clutch shooting would have been the story on any other night. "It's not like he was shooting 40 times to get 40 points.
"It was a special performance."
It was absolute brilliance, a show in every sense of the term, but substantive. These weren’t empty numbers piled up en route to a one-sided outcome. Every point scored on the way to 4-0 mattered.
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Purdue led by 10 in the first half after the Boilermakers unleashed a three-point shooting spree true to its season-long reputation. But as has also been Purdue’s M.O., that lead got away, down to five at half — it would have been two had a buzzer-beating three gotten off a fraction of a second sooner — and two 21 seconds into the second half.
For 15 seconds in the second half, Illinois led after Trent Frazier made a three.
Edwards answered with a mid-range jumper that caromed high in the air, then slipped through the cylinder.
That kind of night.
After a Purdue stop, Nojel Eastern made two free throws, but then Frazier another three for the home team.
Edwards answered it with a triple of his own to break another tie, and put Purdue on its way to a 10-point lead with 9:55 left. Illinois got hot, but Edwards never stopped being hot. He scored the Boilermakers’ next nine points to keep the Illini at arm’s length.
Purdue made 22-of-25 foul shots in the second half and Mathias made a pair of key jumpers in the final three-and-a-half minutes to finish what Edwards started.
This was a picturesque offensive game for Purdue, a reflection of its highest levels of offense this season, when the ball wasn't being turned over. A week after its most grotesque offensive outing of the season at Wisconsin, the Boilermakers shared the ball, found open men and lived up to their mantra of super-sizing good shots into great shots, and it made them. Purdue was 12-of-28 from three and shot 58-plus percent, scoring a Big Ten-season-high 93 against an Illinois defense unlike anything seen this season.
"All week (coaches) were preaching to us, 'You have to be basketball players,' because Illinois knocks you out of your action," Mathias said, "so we weren't going to be able to move and cut like we normally do. We were just making basketball plays.
"I think our basketball IQ really came out tonight. We have a lot of guys who just really know how to play the game and move the ball, especially when they pick up that pressure."
Still, here's the thing about this win for Purdue: Everything Illinois needed to happen to pull the upset, happened.
The Boilermakers turned the ball over 13 times, and with ample consequences, including several pick-six layups or dunks.
Forward Leron Black went off, scoring 28 points and raining jumpers over Purdue's size as the centerpiece of Illinois' small-ball lineups.
Freshman guard Trent Frazier scored all 20 of his points in the second half after an 0-for-3 first.
And Da'Monte Williams and Te'Jon Lucas, a combined 2-for-21 from three-point range in Big Ten play this season, combined to go 5-of-5.
So much went in Illinois' favor.
Except the fact that it didn't have Carsen Edwards and Purdue did.
"I think Carsen was born to score the basketball," teammate P.J. Thompson said.
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