CHICAGO – Zach Edey was surrounded inside, and freshmen Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer were in the middle of a rough day.
That’s when Mason Gillis and David Jenkins Jr. stepped up for No. 5 Purdue.
Gillis had 20 points on 7-for-8 shooting, and the Boilermakers held off Rutgers for a rugged 70-65 victory in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals on Friday.
With Edey drawing his usual attention, top-seeded Purdue (27-5) got a big lift from Gillis and Jenkins. Gillis grabbed nine rebounds, and Jenkins had a season-high 12 points.
“These guys right here stepped up and made big shots,” coach Matt Painter said of Gillis and Jenkins. “David made three 3s. Mason had a huge game. That’s what you’ve got to be able to do.”
Jenkins, a senior who played for South Dakota State, UNLV and Utah before transferring to Purdue, made each of his four shots in 20 minutes. He scored a total of 15 points over his previous six games.
“I just try to do what I can,” Jenkins said. “When my number is called, I’m going to stay ready.”
The 7-foot-4 Edey finished with 16 points and 11 boards. The Big Ten Player of the Year averaged 21.9 points and 12.8 rebounds during the regular season.
Derek Simpson scored 18 points for Rutgers (19-14), which advanced with a 62-50 win against Michigan on Thursday. Cam Spencer had 13 points, and Clifford Omoruyi finished with 10 points and eight rebounds.
Next up for Purdue is 13th-seeded Ohio State, which beat Michigan State 68-58 in the second quarterfinal of the day. The Boilermakers are looking for the school’s second Big Ten Tournament title and a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA tourney.
“We have put together a team that has elite size, but then we have a lot of skill around it,” Painter said. “That’s something for me that we’ve just got to stay with, but then we’ve got to be grimy and tough on the defensive end.”
The loss puts the Scarlet Knights on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, but they think they’ve done enough to get in for the third straight season for the first time in the history of the program.
“We don’t take the backseat to nobody,” guard Caleb McConnell said. “I feel like March Madness deserves to see us play in it, and I feel like that’s what they’ll get.”
Rutgers had won five of its last six meetings with Purdue, including a 65-64 victory on Jan. 2. But the Scarlet Knights struggled to score down the stretch, shooting 40% (14 for 35) from the field in the second half.
After Simpson’s 3-pointer trimmed Purdue’s lead to 50-49 with 8:29 left, Ethan Morton responded with two foul shots for the Boilermakers. Edey then dunked off a pass from Morton and Braden Smith made a jumper to make it 56-49 with 5:40 to go.
Edey added two more free throws and a jumper that lifted Purdue to a 60-52 lead with 3:21 to go.
“We knew it was going to be a grind-it-out, physical game and it was,” Edey said.
The Boilermakers went 19 for 27 at the line, compared to 9 for 13 for the Scarlet Knights. McConnell fouled out, and Rutgers was whistled for 26 personal fouls.
“We were in foul trouble the whole night,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “Two really physical teams, really physical teams. I guess we got caught more than they did.”
Bothered by Rutgers’ swarming defense, Purdue got off to a shaky start. The Boilermakers trailed by as many as 12 in the first half before rallying behind Edey and Gillis.
Edey converted two three-point plays – including a vicious jam inside – and Gillis made a 3-pointer in the final seconds, lifting Purdue to a 29-28 halftime lead. Gillis had 10 points at the break on 4-for-4 shooting.
Rutgers fought hard all the way to the very end, but couldn’t catch the experienced Boilermakers. It was outrebounded by a 35-28 margin.
Purdue split its last eight games of the regular season. It’s looking to become the first No. 1 seed to win the Big Ten tourney since 2019.
Pikiell also argued Rutgers’ case for a spot in the NCAA tourney.
“We want a chance to compete for the national championship,” he said. “This group has been great, and we can do some really fun things. I wouldn’t want to play us, that’s for sure.”
Purdue swept each of its two games against Ohio State this season, winning 71-69 on Jan. 5 and 82-55 on Feb. 19.