NEW YORK — Come March, guard play is inherently important for teams with aspirations to make deep tournament runs.
One look at Purdue this weekend in the Big Ten Tournament, and it becomes pretty clear that the Boilermakers have that covered in Carsen Edwards. Through Purdue’s first two games at Madison Square Garden — both victories to advance to the tournament’s championship game against Michigan (4:30 p.m. ET Sunday, CBS) — Edwards scored 26 and 27 points, respectively.
It might be easy to get caught up by those totals alone, but the way Edwards is scoring — efficiently and in bunches — is what stands out and makes Purdue a dangerous team. A win Sunday would be the Boilermakers’ first Big Ten Tournament championship since 2009, when Purdue great Robbie Hummel won the tournament’s MVP. If that happens, easy money is that Edwards follows in Hummel’s footsteps to claim the honor.
“That was one of our goals, to win [a conference championship]. And we didn’t get it during the regular season,” Edwards said. “Now we have one more opportunity to get it.”
This tournament has given Edwards the platform to show the rest of the conference, and the nation, why he leads the Boilermakers in scoring (18.6 points per game) and shoots better than 40 percent from beyond the arc.
Edwards may have received consensus first-team all-Big Ten honors, but by the final buzzer Sunday evening, there’s a chance he will start receiving the additional hype he deserves.
Edwards dispenses the bland answers, such as, “We’re enjoying it. We’re just taking it one day at a time,” when no one would really blame him if he took a little more credit. Against Penn State in the semifinal, Edwards shot 50 percent from the field on 18 shots and made 6 of 9 3-pointers.
“We needed to get stops,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers lamented. “And Carsen Edwards played so well.”
His 3-pointer just before halftime gave the team a 33-31 lead and momentum for the second half, when the Boilermakers slammed the door on Penn State.
“I feel pretty confident,” Edwards said. “I feel like I’m just trying to take what the defense is giving me.
“I’m just trying to stay not too high, not too low, just trying to stay right in the middle. Just keep doing the same thing, just try to help my team win.”
And here comes the level-headed part.
“I feel like I didn’t end the game as well. I had some missed baskets around the rim, some turnovers, some missed shots.”
Purdue supporters have been loud during the team’s first two games at MSG. Edwards has fed off the energy.
“It’s a crazy atmosphere,” he said. “It’s a blessing just to be here and have this opportunity. I’m just really trying to take advantage of it and I really enjoy it.”
Boilermakers senior guard Dakota Mathias said that Edwards heating up (he’s scored 22 or more points in six of the team’s last eight games) means only good things for Purdue.
“I think it just opens up the floor,” Mathias said. “Especially when he penetrates like that and plays off two feet and makes the right decisions.
“The last couple weeks he’s been scoring at a higher rate, and he’s been efficient doing it. It’s pretty special to watch.”