No. 23 Purdue earns critical road win at No. 17 Maryland

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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The afternoon started off strong in the Big Ten on Saturday as No. 23 Purdue closed out a huge road win to beat No. 17 Maryland, 73-72.

Big man Caleb Swanigan shook off a slow start as the sophomore had 26 points and 10 rebounds to pace the Boilermakers. Even though junior guard Melo Trimble did everything he could to win Maryland this game the Terps didn’t have enough help for him in the end.

Maryland, who falls a game behind No. 10 Wisconsin in the Big Ten standings, is 20-3 on the season but still without a win over a ranked team this year.

Here are four takeaways from this one:

1. This is the road win Purdue needed to be considered a Big Ten contender

Entering Saturday’s game at Maryland, Purdue had lost eight consecutive road games against ranked opponents. Even though the Boilermakers didn’t have great interior play outside of Caleb Swanigan, they were able to hit some big shots and fight back for its biggest win of the season.

With a favorable schedule the rest of Big Ten play, Purdue has to have a lot of confidence after knocking off two top-25 opponents in one week. The win over Northwestern was just okay since it came without Scottie Lindsey but beating Maryland on the road is legitimate.

Indiana has a lot of issues right now and that is Purdue’s next road game. After that Purdue only travels to Penn State, Michigan and Northwestern on the road. That isn’t the toughest draw, and as long as Purdue and can stay healthy and knock down some perimeter looks (more on that below), they should be right in the race.

2. Melo Trimble remains college basketball’s best closer (but he needs help)

Maryland was able to almost beat Purdue because Melo Trimble willed himself to the free throw line time-after-time during the last six minutes of the win. In a tight game and both teams already in the double bonus, Trimble realized that Purdue’s guards couldn’t defend him, so he went into full attack mode going to the basket.

The junior finished with 22 points and five assists as he was 14-for-15 from the free-throw line.

This often resulted in Trimble getting calls as it he so good at changing speeds and getting defenders to hit his body in one way or another. Trimble’s movements force refs to make a call and it can result in two points for the Terps. In the instance of one foul on Isaac Haas while he was called for a block, he was also whistled for a tech and Trimble was able to add another point onto the possession.

Over the last three years Maryland has been outstanding in close games because Trimble loves the pressure of big games and he isn’t afraid to get to the free-throw line. This team still needs to get better at executing crunch-time offense when opposing teams adjust to their offense over the course of a game but they at least have Trimble to help get them over the hump in a lot of close games.

They couldn’t get over the hump in this one, however, because Trimble didn’t have enough help. Freshman Kevin Huerter had 11 points but he was 4-for-11 from the field. Maryland doesn’t have anyone who can consistently create a shot except for Trimble and it came back to bite them in this one.

3. Purdue needs its perimeter shooters to reach full potential

Since Purdue’s frontcourt outside of Caleb Swanigan was off on Saturday, they needed perimeter shooters to step up and make up for the lack of scoring. The Boilers have to be encouraged by what they saw out of certain perimeter options.

Getting two three-pointers each from Dakota Mathias (12 points), P.J. Thompson and Ryan Cline was huge as the perimeter shooting got Purdue back in the game with 10 minutes left when it looked like Maryland could run away with the game.

Freshman guard Carsen Edwards also had 12 points on Saturday. He wasn’t able to knock anything down from the perimeter but he hit the two critical go-ahead free throws with 2.1 seconds left after he confidently attacked the basket and drew a foul.

If Purdue can consistently make shots and free up space for Swanigan and the other big men to operate, it helps out Purdue’s offense so much. Swanigan’s ability to stretch the floor (he was 3-for-6 from three-point range) also helps when he has to play with other players who need space inside.

Purdue hitting shots means the difference between losing early and making the second weekend.

4. Maryland’s post defense is solid

Usually the discussion around Maryland hovers around perimeter threats like Melo Trimble and the new freshmen contributors like Justin Jackson, Kevin Huerter and Anthony Cowan. In other words, big men like Michal Cekovsky and Damonte Dodd don’t get a lot of love. The duo combined for 10 blocks and also scored 19 points on 7-for-9 shooting as they had a solid day on both ends.

The duo deserves a lot of credit for slowing down Purdue’s front court in which they limited the Boiler big men for much of the game. Caleb Swanigan still had 26 points and 10 rebounds but he was 8-for-18 from the floor and Maryland made him work for everything. Forward Vince Edwards went 0-for-7 from the field and was held scoreless while center Isaac Haas was held to nine points on 3-for-10 shooting.

Maryland’s post play wasn’t the issue on Saturday and they need more help from some perimeter shooting outside of Melo Trimble.