Evanston, Ill. — A shaky start to the season didn’t rattle Purdue. The Boilermakers believed they were setting themselves up to go on a big run, and look at them now.
Carsen Edwards scored 21 points and No. 11 Purdue clinched a share of the Big Ten regular-season championship with a 70-57 victory over Northwestern on Saturday.
The Boilermakers (23-8, 16-4) secured their 24th conference title — second in three years — as well as the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago. They came in tied with Michigan State and Michigan, who played each other on Saturday night.
Edwards, the Big Ten’s leading scorer, made just 6 of 18 shots. Nojel Eastern scored a career-high 15, and Purdue bounced back from a loss at Minnesota on Tuesday to win for the 17th time in 20 games.
It’s quite a turnaround after a 6-5 start. The schedule early on wasn’t easy and there were some tight losses along the way.
“We just saw what we had,” center Matt Haarms said. “We saw how good (we could be). We saw the offensive potential. We saw how if we worked on defense, there were things we could do that could be special. Maybe others didn’t realize that because they weren’t around us all the time.”
Northwestern’s Vic Law scored 13 before getting carried off the court with a right knee injury in the second half.
The senior went down when his knee hit Edwards’ right shin as he curled toward the top of the key off a screen near the Wildcats’ basket.
The collision left Law clutching his cut right knee as he pounded the court in pain. He was tended to for several minutes before being carried off the court as the crowd gave him a loud ovation.
Coach Chris Collins said he wasn’t sure of the extent of the injury. He said Law was going for more tests, though he was able to walk.
“The most concerning thing is it was a pretty good cut,” Collins said. “It kind of broke open. That was the tough part of the thing. If there’s a way for him to keep playing, he will.”
A.J. Turner scored 14. The last-place Wildcats (13-18, 4-16) lost for the 11th time in 12 games.
Purdue had trouble putting this one away after building a 15-point lead in the second half. Northwestern got within 63-55 with 4:10 remaining on back-to-back 3s by Turner.
But Edwards answered with a 3 and Eastern hit two free throws to make it a 13-point game.
“We have three or four wins that we were very fortunate to have," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "But more than anything, Our guys improved. Our guys got better. We had some young guys have to grow up, play off the bench and play a role. A lot of times, there’s a lot of dissension.
"There’s a lot of immaturity. There’s a lot of selfishness that comes because you’re young and you want to play. When you don’t have to play very much, you have to play a role. Our guys were really professional.”
The Boilermakers bounced back from a loss at Minnesota and got the win despite some difficulties in this game. They made just 7 of 24 3-pointers, but held a 37-26 rebounding edge — 10-2 in offensive boards.
As if the Wildcats needed more bad news this season, they might have to get by without their leading scorer. Law came in averaging 15.1 points. He missed the 2015-16 season because of a torn labrum in his left shoulder.