DETROIT, Mich. — It’s not necessarily how you start, but how you finish.
For the Purdue Boilermakers, that rang true on Friday afternoon in their 2018 NCAA Tournament opener against the Cal State Fullerton Titans. The Boilermakers are the two-seed in the East Region, and were taking on the Big West Conference champions, who came into the tournament seeded 15th.
Friday marked the first time that the Boilermakers and Titans have met on the hardwood. While the odds were heavily on Purdue’s side coming into the event, the Titans weren’t lacking confidence in themselves on Media Day.
“I think we stand a chance,” said senior Arkim Robertson at the Titans’ press conference on Thursday afternoon. “If we stick to what Coach Taylor gives us and we stick to the game plan, we’re going to be okay.”
Out of the gate, Purdue took an early 6-0 lead, as the Titans couldn’t get anything to fall over the first two-plus minutes. Carsen Edwards opened the scoring with a jumper on the first possession of the game to get Purdue off on the right foot.
The Titans were held without a point for over two minutes before Kyle Allman Jr. connected on a three pointer at the 17:34 mark.
Back and forth the teams would go from there. After their slow start, the Titans would manage to take a lead of their own before the halfway point of the first frame. Khalil Ahmad connected on a jumper with 10:20 to play in the first half to give the Titans a slim one point lead over the Boilermakers, at 12-11.
From there, Purdue rattled off a 9-0 run to take an eight point lead and build some momentum as the first half wound down. The Titans responded with a pair of three pointers to trim the deficit to two points, but they weren’t able to claw their way back before the break.
Purdue took a 30-21 lead into the locker room, despite shooting just 33.3% from the floor. They held Cal State Fullerton to 8-of-25 shooting in the first frame, and both teams were an identical 3-of-11 from beyond the arc.
The second half began much better for Purdue than the first half did. Within the first six minutes, the Boilermakers stretched their lead to 20 points, and were up by 21 by the under-12 media timeout.
Purdue hit their shots from all areas of the floor, and forced the Titans to look at options outside of Allman and Ahmad. The pair combined for 16 of Fullerton’s 21 points in the first half, and only four players scored in the first 20 minutes for the Titans. The Boilermakers took away looks for the duo, forcing them to find teammates or get contested shots up.
As the game wore down, Purdue cleared the bench to get their reserves some time on the court. Jacquil Taylor got a jumper to fall with 4:03 to play in the game to give Purdue its biggest lead of the game at 31 points.
Fan-favourite Tommy Luce checked into the game in the final two minutes, and received loud ovations each time he touched the ball. However, he was unable to put points on the board, going 0-for-2 from the field.
Purdue outscored Fullerton 44-27 in the second half, pulling away for the 74-48 victory to punch their ticket to the Round of 32 on Sunday, where they will either face the Butler Bulldogs or the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Carsen Edwards reached a career milestone in Purdue’s win. With his 15 points, he surpassed the 1,000 point mark for his career (1,003). Vincent Edwards added 15 points of his own to pace the offensive attack for the Boilermakers.
Big man Isaac Haas added nine points and 10 rebounds, narrowly missing a double-double.
For the Titans, Kyle Allman Jr. led all scorers on the afternoon with 21 points to go along with five rebounds. Khalil Ahmad added nine points, while Jackson Rowe had 10 points and three rebounds.
Cal State Fullerton finishes the season with a record of 20-12, while Purdue lives to fight another day.
– T. Bennett