NEW YORK (AP) — Vincent Edwards was back to normal after a sprained ankle had him hobbling to the end of the regular season. It was a good thing for Purdue, too, because the Boilermakers needed Edwards at his best to fight back feisty Rutgers and a partisan crowd at Madison Square Garden.
Edwards scored 26 points as No. 8 Purdue advanced to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals with an 82-75 victory Friday night.
Edwards injured his left ankle two weeks ago and missed two games. He played 25 minutes in Purdue’s regular-season finale against Minnesota to knock the rust off and then had a few extra days to rest with the Boilermakers getting a double bye in the conference tournament.
“Credit my teammates for finding me and the coaches for putting me in position to make plays,” Edwards said. “But just to be able to walk again and walk normally and put pressure on my foot feels great. Really don’t take anything for granted after going through that type of injury.”
Carsen Edwards also scored 26 points for the Boilermakers.
Corey Sanders scored 23 points, including a baseline jumper in the closing minute to pull Rutgers within 78-75. Sanders scored 74 points the three-game run by the last-place Scarlet Knights at Madison Square Garden. But that was all for Rutgers.
Both Edwardses made free throws in the final 30 seconds to send third-seeded Purdue (27-5) into a Saturday night game against seventh-seeded Penn State for a place in Sunday’s title match.
Geo Baker scored 25 points for Rutgers (15-19), the 14th seed playing 35 miles from its campus in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Winning two games guaranteed this tournament as a success for Rutgers, which won only three in the Big Ten regular season. For the third straight night, the Scarlet Knights had the Garden rocking.
“Nobody expected us to win one game,” Sanders said. “To win two and push Purdue to the max, that’s a great accomplishment.”
Rutgers looked a like a team riding a wave in the first half, taking it to Purdue and shooting 58 percent. Sanders was getting to the hoop and flicking in fall-away jumpers and the Scarlet Knights led 38-35 at the half.
“I don’t really think we felt worn down. We had a lot of adrenaline coming in,” Baker said. “We were hyped up for the game. We just came up short.”
Rutgers wobbled but kept responding with big shots and hard work on the boards. The Scarlet Knights had 17 offensive rebounds. Baker converted a fast-break layup into a three-point play with 8:30 left and the Scarlet Knights had tied it at 62.
Moments later the Rutgers band played Bon Jovi’s “Livin on a Prayer” — a New Jersey anthem of sorts — but the “home team” in this first Big Ten Tournament played in New York City had peaked.
“But I didn’t see fatigue from them at the end,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “Sometimes you see you wear a team down that has to play three games in a row. I didn’t see that from Rutgers. I thought we made a couple more plays than they did.”
Vincent Edwards hit a 3 to put Purdue up 72-57 with 5:20 left and moments later Carsen Edwards scored inside to make it a seven-point game.
Rutgers: Whether this fun run for Rutgers is the start of a turnaround for a longtime downtrodden program remains to be seen. It would help if Sanders, a junior with some pro potential, comes back next season. If nothing else the arrow seems to be pointed in the right direction on the program for the first time in a while.
“We’ve gained some respect,” Rutgers second-year coach Steve Pikiell said.
Purdue: In all four games played at MSG on Friday, the team coming in with the double bye looked rusty. Ultimately, the Boliermakers were just too big and talented for Rutgers. Seven-foot-2 Isaac Haas was the go-to guy down the stretch. He finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights and their fans go into the offseason hopeful.
Purdue: The Boilermakers beat Penn State last month 76-73 at West Lafayette, Indiana.
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