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Purdue starts Big Ten 2-0, fights to beat Northwestern

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Isaac Haas delivered the flash, the team-high 13 shot attempts, the team-high 26 points, the team-high nine rebounds, in Purdue’s 74-69 victory over Northwestern Sunday.

But Ryan Cline delivered plenty of substance, whether it be of the timely three-point variety, the surprising ball-on-the-deck-to-the-rim variety or the grit of mixing it up under the basket to try to corral a late rebound.

Perhaps it was an unlikely dynamic duo for the Boilermakers, but it was a potent one to help their Big Ten title defense get off to a resounding start.

Purdue (8-2, 2-0 Big Ten) is 2-0 in the conference for only the fifth time under Matt Painter. And, now, it’ll take a significant break from league play — it started earlier this season to accommodate a moved-up conference tournament — but it’ll do so with built-up confidence.

Thanks, in large part, to Haas and Cline. The pair scored 17 of Purdue’s final 19 points and showed up on the boards, too.

In the end, Haas scored 26 on 8-of-13 shooting and 10 of 14 from the line. He was Purdue’s continual target in the final minutes of a largely one-possession back-and-forth game. He made a post-up to tie it at 67, two free throws to tie it at 69 and another post up for a 71-69 lead with 44.4 seconds left.

“Especially last year, it was kind of dependent on Biggie (Swanigan). Those late-game plays, we always kind of went to him, hoping he’d give us a basket,” Cline said. “But Isaac is obviously stepping up. He’s taught whenever he is one-on-one, he’s going to score the ball and that’s exactly what he did (Sunday).”

Cline added 13 points, 10 in the second half, including a pair of key three-pointers in the final minutes to keep Purdue in it.

The Wildcats (5-4, 1-1) had a chance, though, in the final 9.3 after they were awarded a jump ball despite Cline appearing to have secured the offensive rebound from a Vincent Edwards missed free throw.

Coach Matt Painter directed whoever was guarding the ball once it got past half court to foul. That turned out to be P.J. Thompson on Bryant McIntosh, but Thompson didn’t apparently make significant enough contact — it looked like he went for a steal and missed — and it led to a wide-open three-point tying look by McIntosh. McIntosh missed, and Edwards got the rebound with 1.6 seconds left. He made both free throws for the final margin, to help Purdue win its 12 consecutive game at Mackey and to start 2-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since 2014-15.

“It’s different,” Vincent Edwards said of the early Big Ten games. “Been here four years, and we thought it was kind of wild. But we’re having fun with it. It’s going good so far. It kind of wears on your body a little bit, but it’s better than practicing for a whole week. We’d trade games for practices any day.”

Cline certainly would for performances like this: When he gets to a chance to log more minutes. He had a season-high 25 on Sunday, and, perhaps not surprisingly, it produced one of his bigger games of the year.

And not just in the shooting category, though Cline admits he has been in a slump, entering the game shooting only 17 percent on three-pointers and 24 percent from the field. But with Carsen Edwards out of the game for the second part of the second half — he appeared to take an elbow to the face going for a loose ball — it left more opportunity for Cline.

With Purdue trailing by one midway through the half, he put the ball on the floor late in the clock and got to the rim for a layup. A couple minutes later, he got free on the wing and drilled a three-pointer for a 60-58 lead. Two minutes after that, his three pushed it to 64-62. He also went inside the paint to grab a defensive rebound in that stretch and seemed to have sealed the win by diving on the floor to grab Edwards’ missed free throw — cradling the ball and appearing to call a timeout, even, but the officials called a jump and gave Northwestern its final chance.

But when McIntosh’s shot missed, few were happier than Cline, who had been dealing with back spasms recently.

“It’s a confidence booster,” Cline said of his performance. “I feel like, especially this year, my teammates have wanted me to be more versatile and just try to make as many plays (as I can). The offensive rebound that I had at the end, it’s just hustle plays. I feel like I’m one of those players who will do anything to help Purdue to win. I called timeout, by the way. Just the confidence they throw my way is huge for me.”

Haas' is building, too.

He missed five shots Sunday, and three of those he easily could have made — point-blank looks that just rimmed out — and he still tied a career high with 26 points. Northwestern opted to rarely double Haas, and that's something that makes the big man light up.

"I’m thinking, ‘It’s time to eat,' " he said.

Haas likely will feast more in the upcoming stretch — when Purdue returns to less-high profile games leading into the holiday break.

It's a schedule shift that Painter said he likes, but it'll also test Purdue to stay at a high level despite a drop in opponents: It's coming off victories over ranked Arizona, ranked Louisville and Big Ten foes Maryland and the Wildcats.

"I think it’s great. It makes basketball relevant in our league," Painter said. "A lot of times it’s, ‘Let’s wait until January and then basketball season starts.’ ‘Well, we’ve played 15 games. What do you mean basketball season starts? Basketball season started on Nov. 13.’ The thing I enjoy about it and obviously it’s better when you win, but we’ve played West Virginia, Tennessee, Arizona, Louisville, Northwestern and Maryland. That’s going to get you ready, and that’s what you want. We have an older team.

"It was a great atmosphere here (Sunday), and it was a great pressure-cooker-type game. I think these last four teams we’ve been fortunate to beat are all NCAA Tournament teams. So you’ve still got a long season to go, and they’ve got to earn their way in there. But I definitely feel that."

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