West Lafayette, Ind. — When the season began, No. 17 Purdue knew it had two of the nation’s best big men in 6-foot-8 sophomore power forward Caleb Swanigan and 7-2 junior center Isaac Haas.
What the Boilermakers did not know was what kind of production they would receive from their perimeter players. After this week’s Cancun Challenge, coach Matt Painter may have found the answer.
Swanigan had 22 points and 13 rebounds, and freshman guard Carsen Edwards added 19 points, leading Purdue to a 79-68 victory over NJIT on Saturday.
Swanigan was a perfect 6-of-6 from the field and 10-of-10 from the free throw line, and Edwards scored 15 second-half points to help Purdue (5-1) pull away from a 37-34 halftime lead.
Swanigan was the MVP of this week’s Cancun Challenge, and Edwards scored a career-high 21 points in Wednesday night’s victory over Auburn in the championship game.
“We’re still turnover prone (16 on Saturday), and that’s a problem, but we are doing some good things with our zone offense, especially when we are posting our big guys in those sets, which some teams don’t do,” said Painter, who got 25 points from guard Dakota Mathias in Tuesday’s victory against Utah State in Cancun.
“I also like our focus at the start of second halves. We are able to mix and match lineups, and we’re still getting some of those nice second-half runs. Carsen was a big part of that today.”
Edwards helped Purdue maintain a double-digit lead throughout most of the second half.
“I am just kind of picking my spots,” Edwards said. “I am just playing off my teammates. I am playing the game and letting it come to me. I try not to lose confidence at all.”
Damon Lynn had 20 of his 33 points in the second half for NJIT (3-4), which also got 12 points from Chris Jenkins.
Highlanders coach Brian Kennedy appreciated his team’s effort.
“Obviously, Purdue is a Top 25 team with two of the best big men in the country, and those two guys aren’t going anywhere,” Kennedy said. “So, I told our guys from the beginning that we had to fight, fight and keep fighting, which is what NJIT basketball is all about. We may not get the top recruits in the country, but we are going to compete and fight as hard as we can.”
The momentum swung completely in Purdue’s favor with 9:12 remaining when Rob Ukawuba fouled Swanigan and also was whistled for a technical foul. Swanigan made four consecutive free throws for a 61-47 lead.
“I just grabbed the rebound, walked away and the guy called the foul,” Swanigan said. “(Ukawuba) started walking after me, and I just kept walking away. I was surprised they called a technical so quickly. I’ll take it.”
More Big Ten games
Penn State 74, (at) George Washington 68: Redshirt freshman Mike Watkins scored a career-high 20 points and added eight rebounds and four blocks to lead the Nittany Lions.
Fellow freshman Lamar Stevens had 18 points for Penn State (4-3), which erased a nine-point halftime deficit. Freshman Tony Carr had 12 points.
“We’re a little bit on the roller-coaster ride, but I felt like they were prepared and ready to play tonight,” Penn State coach Pat Chambers said. “I haven’t been real happy with the way they’ve been playing, but their focus was different and their approach was different and we really saw that in the second half.”
George Washington committed 15 turnovers, leading to 14 Penn State points. It also struggled from the perimeter, shooting 5-of-24 on its 3-point attempts.
The Colonials (3-3) played without junior guard Yuta Watanabe, who sat out with a lower leg injury suffered in practice. Watanabe’s 13.4 points per game rank second on the team.
Senior forward Tyler Cavanaugh had 15 points, all in the second half, for George Washington. Cavanaugh, who averages 18.8 points, picked up two fouls and was limited to eight minutes in the first half.
Penn State has won two in a row since dropping back-to-back games to Duke and Cincinnati in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic. The Lions shot 50 percent in the second half while outrebounding the Colonials, 21-16, after the break.
Penn State opened the second half on a 15-2 run, taking the lead for good on junior Payton Banks’ 3-pointer with 15:52 to play.
Memphis 100, Iowa 92: Iowa’s Peter Jok won a personal scoring duel with a career high 42 points while Memphis’ Dedric Lawson put up 35, but Lawson’s Tigers carried the day in a back-and-forth contest for third place in the Emerald Coast Classic.
Jeremiah Martin pitched in with 14 points and hit a pair of three-pointers that brought the Tigers from behind and put them ahead to stay.
The game featured three ties and 15 lead changes before Martin’s two long-distance shots put the Tigers (5-1) up for good, 68-65, after trailing Iowa (3-3) by a point early in the second half.
K.J. Lawson had 17 points, Markel Crawford scored 16 and Craig Randall II added 15 points for Memphis.
(At) No. 6 Duke 93, Appalachian State 58: Grayson Allen scored all 21 of his points in the first half for the Blue Devils (6-1), who will bring a four-game winning streak into their visit from No. 24 Michigan State on Tuesday night.
No. 7 Virginia 63, Providence 52: London Perrantes, selected the tournament’s most valuable player, and Darius Thompson scored 11 points each to lead the Cavaliers (6-0), who gave up the most points this season to the Friars.
(At) No. 9 Xavier 64, Northern Iowa 42: J.P. Macura scored 18 points, and 6-0 Xavier’s defense dug in during a dominant first half.
(At) No. 12 Creighton 82, Loyola (Md.) 52: Justin Patton made all eight of his shots and scored 14 of his 17 points in the second half, and Creighton (6-0) shot 74 percent after halftime.
South Carolina 64, No. 18 Syracuse 50: Sindarius Thornwell scored 16 points and South Carolina (6-0) never trailed in its victory in the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational at Barclays Center.