Purdue vs. Indiana: the 101 on a men’s basketball rivalry that rarely disappoints
Indiana versus Purdue. No Old Oaken Bucket on the line Saturday. It’s basketball; they throw traditions at each other as they throw forearms at each other.
Really, how many other famous rivalries can claim a chair running across the basketball court as one of its defining moments? Given that few of the previous 215 meetings have had the buzz, on Saturday when the No. 1 Boilermakers show up in Bloomington, it will be time for a crash course in this ancient feud.
The Boilermakers have never faced the Hoosiers as a top team. Or from Indiana’s perspective, the Hoosiers never had the chance to experience the blessed joy of ousting Purdue from first place. If that happens on Saturday, do you want to guess what the post-match pitch will look like? Flash back to last season when Indiana defeated the No. 4 Boilermakers 68-65 to break a nine-game losing streak in the series. It looked like half of the student body was coming out of the bleachers. “Any time you can beat Purdue – and they feel the same way about us, and it’s been a while since we beat them – that’s special,” Hoosiers coach Mike Woodson said that day. .
Incidentally, Indiana’s game-winning shot was delivered by reserve Rob Phinisee, who went to high school seven miles from Purdue’s campus. He scored 20 points in that game and 92 the rest of the season.
One thing that makes this reunion compelling is High Noon in the paint. The focus is on the top. There’s Zach Edey, 7-foot-4, the National Player of the Year favorite who just torched Tom Izzo’s Michigan State defense for 38 points. And there’s the guy who’s not far behind Edey — even though he’s seven inches shorter — in Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis. He recently had a three-game streak when he had 35, 31 and 25 points and added 21 rebounds against Minnesota. The Hoosiers were beaten at Maryland on Tuesday but still had 18 points and 20 rebounds.
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Purdue has so much to brag about in this rocky relationship. The Boilermakers have won more Big Ten season titles (24-22), can boast more consensus All-Americans (28-16) and more Big Ten Coach of the Year awards (11-4). They won the Big Ten tournament, which Indiana never did. Plus, they have a solid 125-90 series lead, having outscored them 13-2 the past nine seasons.
But… but… but…
Five national championship banners hang in the Assembly Hall, none in the Mackey Arena. Purdue hasn’t seen a Final Four in 43 years, Indiana has played four since. Boilermakers fans don’t like this March gap as a talking point. They prefer to talk about the school that has sent the most men to the moon, Neil Armstrong being a Purdue man.
It’s not Bob Knight versus Gene Keady anymore. It was a terrific chapter in this series and Keady boasts what few other coaches do – a winning record against Knight, albeit barely at 21-20, a record reflecting the drama of their rivalry. What both sides have now is largely a sequel. Woodson played for Knight, Purdue coach Matt Painter played for Keady. The beat continues, though Woodson won’t bring a donkey in a Purdue cap to a TV show like Knight once did.
It’s February 23, 1985. The game is barely five minutes old when Knight, enraged by a flurry of fouls on Indiana, is whistled for a technical. It only drives him crazier. As Purdue’s Steve Reid prepares to shoot the technical free throw, Knight grabs a chair and…
You probably know the rest. The chair was then seen fairing by Reid, as Assembly Hall roared and the rest of the game gasped.
36 years ago today, Indiana coach Bob Knight sadly threw a chair onto the field. #TodayInSports #NCAAB 🪑 🏀
— TodayInSports (@TodayInSportsCo) February 23, 2021
The Boilermakers won 72-63 but it wasn’t much of a conversation afterward, although Keady tried. “The most important thing I would like to tell you is that our victory is the headline,” he told the media afterwards. “I hope you understand my drift because my children deserve it.”
There have been many memorable games without flying chairs. The 1980 Sweet 16 in Lexington, for example, as the only time they met in the NCAA Tournament. The No. 2 seed Hoosiers was upset 76-69 by the No. 6 seed Boilermakers, who eventually landed in the Final Four. Their last Final Four, by the way.
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Scoring 14 points for Indiana that night was the guy who had returned from mid-season back surgery with such strength, he was named the Big Ten’s most valuable player after appearing in just six league games. : Mike Woodson. The Final Four was scheduled for his hometown of Indianapolis in 1980, with the championship game played on his 22nd birthday. What a fairy tale that would be. But then Purdue ruined it.
“I didn’t have much left in the tank. Physically I knew I was running with fumes,” he recently said of the loss. “If I could salvage anything (from my college career), it would be this game.
“Getting out this way is tough. It’s Purdue.”
Painter’s last game against Indiana was also a loss, 93-78 at Bloomington in 1993. He scored 13 points.
Another meeting is at the top of the list of events to remember. While Larry Bird and Indiana State were on a collision course with Magic Johnson and Michigan State in the 1979 Final Four, the NIT Championship game in midtown Manhattan was played between two Indiana teams. The Hoosiers beat the Boilermakers 53-52 on a jumper in the final six seconds from Butch Carter, the only runs scored by either team in the 6:30 final.
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While Purdue has the recent ghost of Rob Phinisee, Indiana has the more distant specter of a heartbreaker named Chad Austin. His 3-point corner with 13.7 seconds left beat the Hoosiers at Assembly Hall in 1996. A year later, his shot from the other corner with 0.6 seconds left beat them again.
Indiana’s golden age was the mid-1970s when the Hoosiers went 56-0 in two regular seasons. Forty-four of those 56 games have been double-digit wins. But three of the wins over Purdue have been by one, three and four runs.
Indiana was No. 1 in all of those games. Nearly half a century later, the tables are turned, as Purdue acclimatizes to life as a top target. Painter talked about that ongoing process this week.
“You have to be disciplined and not listen to what people say because success bothers you more than failure,” he said. “If you can take that noise out and take that rhetoric out of your thinking and just worry about what people are saying in your locker room, you’ll be more successful, you’ll have that good headspace and you’re going to have more fun. If you’re always trying to please people who don’t really exist and you don’t know, it becomes very difficult.
The message he put on the board last weekend before sending the Boilermakers to beat Michigan State at Mackey Arena: Give the fans something to cheer on, but have fun with it.
It’ll be an army of fans in Indiana red cheering on Saturday, and none of it is friendly to the nation’s No. 1 team. Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall will sound like a launching pad at Cape Canaveral. As Woodson said, it’s Purdue.